Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XXI Chapter 1

We cut back to England and flash back to just after Arthur and Gawaine sail away with their sixty thousand troops.  Mordred, Guenever, and all the other survivors of Book XX stand on the dock and watch them go.

“Well, they’re dead,” says Mordred.  “I mean, come on, they went off to make war against Launcelot.  We’re all thinking it.  They’re dead.”

The various assembled knights exchange glances and mutter noncommittally.

“Yeah, they’re dead,” Mordred says.  “That guy who said they were dead, he was right.  I’m king now.  Everybody?  I’m king now!”

Guenever scowls, because this is another situation where her whole purpose is to be a chit in one of Arthur’s damn games.  “So you’re king now.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m definitely the king now,” says Mordred.  “King Mordred.  That sounds okay, right?  I don’t need to change my name to Arthur Junior?”

“I don’t think that would be wise.”  Guenever’s eyes narrow.  “I’m still the queen, though, yes?”

“Yeah, of course.  You’re queen, I’m king… hey!”  Mordred snaps his fingers, realizing something.  “That means we’re married!”

Guenever scoffs.  “We are not married!  I married Arthur!  If I was going to marry someone else, you’re way down on that list.”

“But I’m king!  We’re married if I say we’re married!  And I say we’re married!”

“Nope.”

Mordred sulks for a moment, then has an idea.  “Then we’ll get married!”

“What?”

“Wedding!  A compulsory wedding!”  Mordred loves this idea.  “You, my father’s wife, my uncle’s wife!  You and me, getting married!”

“Um.”

“Yes!  Mandatory wedding, everybody!”  He turns to the collected knights.  “Three cheers for me!”

The knights cheer.  It’s kind of ragged at first, but then things pick up, because knights love cheering.  “Hooray!  Hooray!  Hooray!”

“Hooray,” Guenever says weakly.  She can see where this is going.  “Mordred, darling boy…”

“Call me ‘Mordy Baby!’”

“Mordy Baby,” Guenever says because she knows to pick her battles.  “We’re going to need tablecloths, and candles, and roast suckling pigs, and maybe the Decemberists to play the reception… all kinds of supplies.  A lot of stuff.  A lot, a lot, you know?”

“Uh huh?”  Mordred is much more concerned with waving at the crowd of knights than he is listening to Guenever.  “Sure, sure.”

“So I’m going to go down to London, okay, and make some arrangements.  Get a dress, hire some caterers, throw together a web site, record a Kickstarter video, you know.  I’ll meet you in Camelot, ‘kay?”

“Sure, sure.”

So Guenever sneaks off from the dock and rides with some of her ladies to London!  Once there she buys a big pile of food and wine, like you would for a wedding reception, but instead of the Decemberists she hires mercenary guards, and instead of recording a Kickstarter video she locks herself in the Tower of London.

“I’m not coming out!” she shouts down to the crowd.  “I live here now!  Arthur’s dead, Launcelot’s gone, there’s nothing for me out there!”

Eventually Mordred hears about this.  He goes to London to try to talk her into coming out, but it’s a real nonstarter, even after Mordred tries starting fires and firing cannons and shouting insults up at her, which are all his best ideas.  Mordred’s down at the bottom of the Tower of London, pacing around, when the Archbishop of Canterbury stops by.

“So, Sir Mordred,” the Archbishop begins.

“King Mordred,” he says in correction.

“Right, right.  About that.  Listen, you know that according to the current Church doctrine, marrying your father/uncle’s wife is incest?”

“Incest didn’t hurt my uncle-father any.”

“Mmm.  Well, regardless, the Church is pretty clear on that.  It’s really pretty skeevy.”

“Shut up,” says Mordred. “I’m sick and tired of your attitude, guy who I just met for the first time!”

“Also I’ve been in communication with the clergy in Benwick, and they say Arthur isn’t dead…”

“I said shut up!”  Mordred pulls his sword.  “You want I should slice your head off?  Because I totally will!”

The Archbishop steps back, out of melee range, and flees.  He doesn’t return to Canterbury; instead he escapes into the wilderness and becomes a hermit out in the middle of nowhere.

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Primary Sources: Le Mort D’Arthur, Book XX Conclusions

This book is a bloodbath.  Literally dozens of characters, some of whom we’ve seen many times over the course of Le Morte D’Arthur, are cut down during Launcelot’s two big knight-massacres.  So, okay, first there’s the big fight over Guenever.  Launcelot resists arrest, kills a bunch of dudes.  Then Arthur decides to burn Guenever at the stake again.  Last time he tried to burn her at the stake, Launcelot showed up and rescued her.  The time before that, too.  And yes, that means that King Arthur has decided to burn Guenever at the stake on three separate occasions.

Even by what I understand to be fourteenth-century-era norms, that seems excessive.  In Book XIX, we began to see that King Arthur isn’t 100% of the time the wisest and the best, eternally focused on the good and the beautiful, that he’s got a big blind spot in the form of Guenever.  In Book XX, the band-aid is ripped off!  Launcelot’s betrayal breaks Arthur.  He overnight goes from being the best king ever to a milquetoast who just sits back and cries while Sir Gawaine handles everything.

Sir Gawaine has been presented as so hot-headed and unwise in Books I through XIX.  But then, all of a sudden Sir Gawaine is the voice of reason in Arthur’s court, suggesting detente to get Guenever back.  Of course, once they do have Guenever back Gawaine flips around again.  He spends the rest of the book basically frothing at the mouth and displaying previously-unused superpowers.  It’s surprising, at first, that Sir Gawaine is able to defeat Sir Bors, Sir Lionel, Sir Ector, Sir Palomides, and all the rest of Launcelot’s Benwick faction, as Malory claims.  He defeats one a day for six months, and I think the implication is that he uses his cheaty super-strength ability; he always calls out a knight just before noon, trounces him, then does nothing for the rest of the day, apparently.

Also, once they have Guenever back, King Arthur exhibits no joy at all in her presence, suggesting, once again, that theirs was a wholly political union (necessary for Arthur to gain the Best Table Ever) and that if only Agravaine and Mordred had shut up about it Arthur would’ve turned a blind eye to the infidelity.  It’s a little odd that Arthur’s two sons, Sir Borre and Sir Mordred, are both illegitimate and from before he married Guenever.  I assumed, given the frequency with which Arthur sired illegitimate children in Book I, it was going to be a recurring thing, but instead we’re given no reason to believe he was unfaithful to his wife, despite us also being given no reason to believe he particularly cared for her.

This seems like an odd time to stop and take the pulse of the story; we’re right in the middle of the action.  In fact I’d go so far as to say this is the first Book of Le Morte D’Arthur that really ends on a cliffhanger.  Book XVI is the closet thing to a cliffhanger we’ve seen up to this point, and it just ends with Sir Bors noting that Sir Galahad will show up soon, super dramatic but not exactly exciting.

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Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XX Chapters 22 and 23

Alas,” says Arthur, “that ever this unhappy war was begun.

Nevertheless Arthur does not go home, as Launcelot suggests!  Instead the siege goes on for three weeks more, with no activity to speak of, until one morning Sir Gawaine feels healthy enough to get up and walk around.  First thing he does is mount up and ride over to the castle gates, where he starts shouting for Launcelot to come out and joust.  Foul traitor knight, you know the drill.

Sir Launcelot sticks his head out over the top of the castle walls.  “Seriously?”

“I’m here and I’m ready to continue our joust!” shouts Gawaine.

“Gawaine, seriously, that’s just silly.  You’re embarrassing yourself.  We’ve already done this.”

“Then we’re going to have to do it again!  And again and again, until one of us is dead!”

Well ye wot, Sir Gawaine, ye may not greatly hurt me.  We’ve established which of us is the bad-ass ultra-knight and which of us wouldn’t have been on the Round Table in the first place if he wasn’t King Arthur’s nephew.”

“Come down!” shouts Gawaine.  “Come down and demonstrate to me with your hands just why you think you don’t need to apologize to me!”

“Christ,” says Launcelot.  “I’m getting sick of this.”

Launcelot comes out of the castle, again.  He and Gawaine joust, again.  Launcelot easily dehorses Gawaine, again.  Gawaine gets up and demands they sword-fight, again.  Launcelot and Gawaine sword-fight, again.  As noon approaches Gawaine fills with a kind of mad strength, again.  Launcelot waits it out, again.  Three hours after their fight starts (again) Launcelot bashes Gawaine’s head in, in the exact same place as before.

And once again, as Launcelot turns to leave, Gawaine complains about being left alive, and again he declares that their battle will not end until one of them is dead.  And once again Gawaine spends weeks convalescing, and then, yet again…

Shocking twist!  Because three days before Gawaine’s planned third bout with Launcelot, Arthur gets news from England that causes him to pull up stakes and return to Camelot post-haste!

TO BE CONTINUED IN: BOOK XXI!  Dun dun dunnn!

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Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XX Chapter 21

For three solid hours they joust.  Sir Launcelot and Sir Gawaine, hammering one another out in the field in front of Castle Benwick.  Their horses die in the first pass, but without a word they dismount, pull out their swords, and just go to town on one another.

Three hours in, as noon approaches, Sir Launcelot starts to wonder what’s up.  Sir Gawaine is not a guy he would have expected to put up this solid a fight.  Maybe he’s just motivated to expend hidden reserves, what with avenging his family.  Or maybe — and this is the true thing — Sir Gawaine has a secret.

This came up once before, roundabout Chapter 17 of Book IV.  From around ten to noon, Gawaine’s strength multiplies.  For a while at noon, he is straight-up super-strong.  So while, normally, Gawaine would slowly be getting weaker and weaker, as Launcelot bruises and nicks him, instead he comes at Launcelot with more and more power!

Is this the untimely end of Launcelot?  No, because even when he’s up against a guy with super-strength, Launcelot still fights smart.  Malory breathlessly reports that Launcelot switches to a purely defensive fighting style as Gawaine’s strength waxes.  He’s able to wait out Gawaine-as-Hourman, your standard Foreman-Ali matchup.

Finally, Gawaine’s strength leaves him.  Where this magic strength came from, Malory can’t say.   Malory blames an holy man for it, which I would interpret as Nacien, except that it first shows up way way way back when Gawaine’s a young man.  It’s completely inexplicable there, too.  Regardless, once Gawaine’s burned out, he becomes easy pickings for Launcelot, who smashes his skull in.

Gawaine lies on the ground, exhausted and bloodied and half-dead.  As Launcelot turns away, however, Gawaine wheezes out “Why withdrawest thou thee?”

“I won,” says Launcelot.

“No, you haven’t won yet.  I’m still alive.  Long as I’m alive, this fight isn’t over.  Get back here and finish it, or next time we meet, I will!”

Launcelot shakes his head no.  “Wit thou well, Sir Gawaine, I will never smite a felled knight.”  He walks away from the still-protesting Gawaine, as doctors and medics and leech-handlers rush in to treat the half-dead knight.

As Launcelot walks back to his castle, none of Arthur’s army dares to touch him.  He passes King Arthur’s tent on the way, and tells his old friend and former liege lord to just go home because there’s nothing Arthur’s going to accomplish here.

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Primary Sources: Book XX Chapter 20

And so, bright and early one morning, Arthur and his enormous army lay siege to Castle Benwick. Sir Gawaine, pretty much the last knight standing, acts as his general.  They encircle the castle and assault it with ladders, which Launcelot’s men toss off.  It’s very Helm’s Deep, with Arthur’s army pounding on the castle walls as though to tear them down.

“Come on, Launcelot!” shouts Sir Gawaine in front of the castle gates  “Sally forth!  Fight me in the field!  Stop hiding in your hole!”

“I knew it!” curses Bagdemagus.

Launcelot declines to joust Gawaine, again, and so it falls to Sir Bors to do the job.

Sir Bors, arguably the best knight, the winner of the Quest for the Holy Grail, emerges from Castle Benwick and charges Gawaine.

In a huge upset and shocker, Sir Gawaine dehorses him!  Bors goes down!

Sir Lionel can’t let that stand!  He rides out from Castle Benwick to rescue Sir Bors!

And then Sir Gawaine dehorses Lionel, too!

Somehow the two wounded knights get back into the castle, but they have to suffer the ignominy of losing to Sir Gawaine, which is pretty bad.

However, they soon have fine company.  For the next six months — that’s half a year, people, around a hundred and eighty days — every morning Sir Gawaine shouts a challenge to Launcelot, and every morning a different knight comes out to defend Launcelot’s honor, and every morning Gawaine dehorses, wounds, and generally humiliates that knight.

Finally one morning, perhaps because Launcelot starts to run low on knights to send, things go differently.  As per usual, Gawaine calls Launcelot out: “False traitor knight!” and so on.  “I shall revenge upon thy body the death of my three brethren.” You get the idea by this point, I’m sure.

All of Launcelot’s surviving knights turn to him.  “C’mon,” says one.  “He’s being a dick.”

“He deserves to get beaten up!”

“You can totally joust his ass!”

Launcelot really doesn’t want to — perhaps because he remembers the Round Table oath Guenever composed.  One rule was that knights of the Round Table weren’t supposed to fight one another (except in tournaments), ever.

“You’ve put off jousting him too long!” insist his followers.

“God help me,” says Launcelot.  “It’s time.”

Then Sir Launcelot bade saddle his strongest horse, and bade let fetch his arms, and bring all unto the gate of the tower; and then Sir Launcelot spake on high to King Arthur.

“Arthur!  Sire!  You have long been my lord and I am very sorry to do this, but you’ve forced my hand.  After six months of Sir Gawaine’s prancing around, I’ve got to do something.  I’m sorry about how I’m about to kill your nephew!”

Arthur, who has been in a funk since before this book even started, shakes his head and sighs.  “Alas, that ever Sir Launcelot was against me,” he mutters.

Sir Gawaine’s ready for him, though.  “Leave thy babbling and come off, and let us ease our hearts!”

And so it happens.  No more peace till the one were dead.  Or surrenders.  Tapping out is still allowed; they aren’t animals.

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Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XX, Chapter 19

Meanwhile Arthur and Gawaine mobilize all of England to invade Benwick.  It’s sixty thousand troops, which is the largest army we’ve seen in a while, on par with Arthur’s invasion force in Book V or the armies he and Team Lot & Mister 100 battled with back in Book I.

Arthur and Gawaine are heading to Benwick, so he turns over temporary Acting King status to Sir Mordred, his illegitimate son and also nephew.  Guenever, Malory notes, is included in the list of things that Arthur puts Mordred in charge of.  As per usual, she gets no say.

When Arthur’s army lands in Benwick, they start lighting things on fire, the way the Romans did, again in Book V.  We join Launcelot’s brain trust in an emergency cabinet session, already in progress.

“So in conclusion, we need to sally forth and do battle with them in the field, for all the reasons I just laid out.”  Sir Bors wraps up his presentation and looks for support.

“I don’t know,” says Sir Lionel.  “We’ve got some strong walled towns and all we really need to do is wait until winter, when Arthur’s men will starve.  Or at least they’ll be weak and demoralized and we can fight them then.”

King Bagdemagus thinks this is a terrible plan.  “We hole up in our little hidey-holes, everybody’s going to think we’re hole-dwelling cowards!”

“Wait,” says Bors.  “Didn’t Sir Gawaine kill you sometime before Book XVII, Bagdemagus?”

“There’s no time to sort that out,” says Sir Galihud.  “This is a crisis! I beg you, Launcelot, let me take out the seven best knights from North Wales, my friends who don’t have names only because they’ve been involved in their own wholly separate strange adventures this whole time, let me take them out and smash Arthur’s army!”

Launcelot listens to all their ideas, and then announces what the plan is.  “Peace is better than war, and I well remember tales of my father and uncle’s campaigns against King Claudas, and how they ravaged this land.  I’m going to send Peter the dwarf with a damosel and a message to Arthur, and perhaps we can still make peace.”

CUT TO Peter teleporting into Arthur’s camp.  He and the damosel are immediately accosted by Sir Lucan the Caterer, one of the very few named knights who neither joined Launcelot nor were slain by him.  Lucan quickly ushers them into Arthur’s presence, warning them that Sir Gawaine is also there.

Inside Arthur’s tent, Arthur and Gawaine listen as Peter and the damosel lay out Launcelot’s peace offer.  Malory is nonspecific but apparently it’s a pretty solid offer!  Presumably Launcelot apologizes for breaking half of Arthur’s empire off and turning it into the Kingdom of Launcelot, and offers to start paying taxes again.  Anyway, Arthur is inclined to take it.

“Oh, come on, Uncle Sire!” cries Gawaine. “We came all this way!  Turn around now and we look like dicks!  I mean, you’re the king, but still.  Give me a break, that’s what I’m saying.”

Arthur flip-flops and decides Gawaine is right.  “For various reasons,” he tells the damosel, “I’ve decided to assign the task of answering Launcelot’s peace offer to my nephew here.”

Sir Gawaine’s response can be summed up as “and the horse you rode in on.”

The damosel returns to Launcelot (Peter, for whatever reason, decides to stay in Arthur’s camp, apparently).  All his knights cheer when they learn about Gawaine’s rejection of the peace deal!  Huzzah!  War!  Hooray for war!

“I don’t know why you guys are so fired up about fighting our longtime friends and former liege lord,” grumbles Launcelot.  “But if that’s what we’re doing, then everybody needs to get a good night’s sleep.”

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Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XX, Chapters 17 and 18

Malory’s description at this point makes me almost wonder if he has some kind of preference between Sir Gawaine and Sir Launcelot, like, he thinks one of them is a generally awful person and the other is the best knight ever who totally deserves to sleep with Guenever.

Anyway.  Launcelot monologues his response:  “Alas most noble Christian realm, whom I have loved above all other realms, and in thee I have gotten a great part of my worship, and now I shall depart in this wise.  Truly me repenteth that ever I came in this realm, that should be thus shamefully banished, undeserved and causeless; but fortune is so variant, and the wheel so moveable, there nis none constant abiding, and that may be proved by many old chronicles, of noble Ector, and Troilus, and Alisander the Mighty Conquerer, and many mo other; when they were most in their royalty, they alighted lowest.  And so fareth it by me, for in this realm I had worship, and by me and mine all the whole Round Table hath been increased more in worship by me and mine blood, than by any other.  And therefore wit thou well, Sir Gawaine, I may live upon my lands as well as any knight that here it.  And if ye, most redoubted king, will come upon my lands with Sir Gawaine to war upon me, I must endure you as well as I may.  But as to you, Sir Gawaine, that if ye come there, I pray you charge me not with treason nor felony, for an ye do, I must answer you.”

Gawaine shakes awake when he realizes Launcelot has stopped talking.  “I’m sorry, what?  I wasn’t listening.”

Launcelot quakes with rage as he lists off his main points.  “I’m leaving England.  I’m sorry I ever came here.  You guys are jerks and your Round Table would have collapsed a long time ago without me holding it up.  I’m going home to Benwick. If you guys decide to invade Benwick, you’ll be met with an army.  Also, Sir Gawaine, you in particular are an ass.”

Gawaine scoffs. “Yeah, go running home to Benwick!  Better lay in supplies, because it’s going to be along siege!”

“No siege,” says Launcelot.  “You invade, I meet you in the field and crush you.”

“Shut up and hand over Guenever,” is the whole of Gawaine’s response.

Guenever’s been standing there this whole time, listening to Launcelot and Gawaine bicker.  She clears her throat to speak, but then Launcelot turns to her.

Madam, now I must depart from you and this noble fellowship for ever; and sithin it is so, I beseech you to pray for me, and say me well; and if ye be hard bestead by any false tongues, lightly lady send me word, and if any knight’s hands may deliver you by battle, I shall deliver you.

Everyone in Camelot, king, duke, baron, earl, knight, lady, gentlewoman, everybody breaks down sobbing as Sir Launcelot, the best night ever, leaves, never to return.  It’s a tremendously dramatic moment, Malory assures us.  Violins swelling, cameras spinning, and Sir Gawaine the only holdout on the waterworks.

As you might expect, the whole of the Benwick faction goes with him.  Not just Launcelot’s relatives, Sir Lionel and Sir Ector the Lesser and Sir Bors and so on, but also Sir Palomides, Sir Safere, Sir Lavaine, Sir Urre, with many others.  When they arrive in Benwick (which Malory says in either Bayonne or Burgundy, I guess because they both start with a B) Launcelot puts together a huge parliament, where he sets up a new feudal system displacing the one Arthur set up at the end of Book V.

And now, another list!  Launcelot’s new feudal arrangement!

SUPER KING OF EVERYTHING: Launcelot

King of Benwick: Ector the Lesser (also overking of Lionel and Bors)

King of France: Lionel

King of King Claudas’s lands: Bors

Duke of Limosin: Sir Blamore

Duke of Poictiers: Sir Bleoberis

Duke of Querne: Sir Gahalantine

Duke of Sentonge: Sir Galihodin

Earl of Perigot: Sir Plenorius

Earl of Masauke: Sir Selises

Earl of Tursauk: Sir Melias de Lile

Duke of Landok: Sir Safere

Earl of Agente: Sir Clegis

Earl of Surlat: Sir Sadok

Duke of Anjou: Sir Dinas, Mark’s former seneschal

Duke of Normandy: Sir Clarrus

Earl of “the Lands:” Sir Bellangere le Beuse

Duke of “the Province:” Sir Palomides

And many more that meseemeth it were too long to rehearse.

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Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XX Chapters 14 to 16

Somehow the Pope hears about this war and writes a letter commanding Arthur and Launcelot to make up.  Malory explains that the Bishop of Rochester acted as the Pope’s messenger on this one, but fails to explain how the news of the Arthur-Launcelot feud made it all the way to Rome, why the Pope particularly cares, or how the Bishop of Rochester gets the note from Rome to Camelot fast enough for it to have an impact on the siege.

Regardless, when Arthur reads his pope-mail and finds an instruction to end the violence and just take Guenever back to Camelot, he’s prepared to accept that.

Sir Gawaine thinks this is bullshit, but he’s still in a wheelchair from the battle last chapter.  The Bishop of Rochester, able to come and go from Joyous Gard freely on account of his magical bishop powers, plus canon law, acts as a go-between for the Launcelot-Arthur negotiations.

Launcelot’s ultimately willing to give up Guenever, because stranded in a besieged castle is not a particularly safe space.  Thus, he and Arthur declare a cease-fire  Arthur goes back to Camelot with all his knights, and a few days later Launcelot and a hundred knights and Guenever and two dozen ladies-in-waiting and a dozen minstrels (Guenever does not travel except in style) ride forth.

Once everyone is assembled in the great hall at Camelot, Launcelot gives a little speech about how he’s here doing this because the Pope asked him.  “And for the record, I again formally deny that there has ever been anything untoward about my relationship with Guenever.  She is pure and honest and chaste and faithful, and I will joust anyone who suggests otherwise.  Liars with a dedicated interest in driving a wedge between Arthur and myself have been spreading scurrilous rumors, but luckily for us all most of them died in the first part of this book.”

Gawaine grumbles.

“Just to be clear,” Launcelot continues, “I am saying that Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred, who first accused us of an affair, were lying, and were speaking bad faith when they called me traitor and false knight —”

They called thee right!”  Gawaine interrupts.  He slams a goblet dramatically to the floor.  “You’re a liar and a fraud and you’ve been sleeping with Guenever for years!”

Launcelot stiffens, but keeps his cool.  “My lord Sir Gawaine, in their quarrel they proved themselves not in the right.  I’m going to refrain from smacking you, because we’ve known one another a long time, and I don’t want to smack old comrades like, say, Sir Lamorak to name a different old colleague selected wholly at random.”

“Grr!”

“If their accusations had been correct,” Launcelot continues, “then maybe they and the dozen knights with them wouldn’t have been so much meat for my blade.  Guenever called me into her chamber because she saw a spider that needed squishing, or she wanted something from a high shelf, or… that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that we definitely weren’t having sex.”

The king may do as he will,” says Sir Gawaine, “but wit thou well, Sir Launcelot, thou and I shall never be accorded while we live.  You killed my brothers and sons, and that I cannot forgive!”

“I’ve been forced to conclude that it was God’s will that I strike them down,” responds Launcelot.  “But I do feel bad about killing Sir Gareth.  Him I liked.  His death, and Sir Gaheris’s death, those are not deaths I’m proud of.   Tell you what I’ll do.”  Launcelot clears his throat and raises his voice, so that all the assembled knights and ladies can hear him. “I’m going to put on a hair shirt and go down to the first convent I see, and beg the abbess there to assign me some penance.  Then one I’ve sung or prayed or fasted or whatever, I’ll go to the next convent down the road, and repeat the process, until I’ve worked my way clear to Sandwich, stopping and being forgiven at every shrine and temple and church and monastery and convent and abbey.”

“Dick.  If Arthur lets you back into good graces, I’m resigning my place at the Round Table.”

“Sir!” Launcelot gets all huffy, as though he weren’t being an ass.  “If you were to do that, I would be forced to take it as an insult and then we would joust.  I have asked your forgiveness and if you fail to grant it, then you’re the one being a dick!”

“Really?  Me a dick?  You challenging me?  You’d just ignore the Pope’s request that we lay down our arms?”  Gawaine makes a big show of looking shocked, for the crowd.  “But you were just piously setting out a complex and grandstanding penance for yourself!”

Launcelot had forgotten about that part.  “Well, then, under the circumstances I think the best thing for me to do would be to return home to Benwick.”

A hush falls over the assembly, because that is a heavy threat apparently.

“I think so too,” says Gawaine.  “Two weeks, and you and all your kin are no longer welcome in this land!  So says my uncle!”

“Uh…”  Arthur has been trying and failing to get a word in edgewise for a while now.  “No, you know what?” he finally says.  “I’m going to let it stand.  Two weeks, then exile.”

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Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XX Chapters 11 to 13

Cut to four months later.  Arthur’s siege on Joyous Gard has gone on nearly that long; Launcelot refuses to come out.  Then, Launcelot finally appears, up on the walls of the castle.  He calls down to Arthur, saying that the siege is pointless and suggesting they all just agree to disagree.  Can’t King Arthur just accept that Guenever would be with Launcelot?

Arthur offers to just joust Launcelot, one on one.  If Launcelot isn’t scared…

Launcelot is not about to joust King Arthur.  He does not want to be the guy who jousted King Arthur and killed him; Launcelot straight-up refuses.

“Jesus, Launcelot!” shouts Arthur.  “You’ve got some nerve claiming the moral high ground!  Thou hast slain my good knights, and full noble men of my blood!  I can’t even count, there’s Gaheris, and Agravaine, and Tor, and…”  Arthur trails off.  He’s forgetting something, he knows.  Then he remembers.  “Oh, yes, also you kidnapped my wife and you’ve been having an affair with her since Book V.  This is Book XX!  That’s fifteen Books!”

Launcelot gasps in mock outrage.  “I admit I killed a bunch of guys on my way out, and I am sorry about that, but what’s done is done. As to the charge that I’ve been having an affair, I formally deny that and I’ll joust any knight who says otherwise!  Also you tried to set Guenever on fire, twice.  Don’t act like this is about her.  You were always perfectly happy to let me act as her champion and defender, confident that I’d save her.  Now I’ve saved her again, and this time instead of thanking me and rewarding me with high honors, you lay siege to my castle.”

“Objection!” cries Sir Gawaine, whom everyone forgot was also still alive and present.  “You murdered Agravaine, Gaheris, and Gareth, plus my three sons!  That’s why we’re here, maybe, but if so, that’s a good reason to be here!”

“Did I not just say I was sorry?”  Launcelot gets all testy.  “Also, you’re a fine one to be talking about murdering knights; you murdered Sir Lamorak!”

“I did indeed, which just goes to show you what a great knight-killer I am!  I can also show you more directly!”

“I’m not afraid!” Launcelot scoffs.  “Unlike a certain knight whose name is Gawaine, who was so scared for Sir Lamorak that technically his brother Gaheris had to do the deed.”

Gawaine fumes.

“Guys!  Guys!”  Arthur waves his arms around, trying to get everyone’s attention.  “Listen, it’s obvious we don’t actually want a big bloody destructive battle…”

“I do!” shouts Gawaine.  “Battle!  Battle!  Launcelot sucks!  Everybody!”

Soon he has Arthur’s whole army chanting it, ‘battle battle Launcelot sucks.’

Up in the castle, Launcelot’s men do not take this well.  “Boss, they’re saying you suck.  They’re the ones who suck!”

Launcelot sighs.  “Okay.”  He calls back down to Arthur.  “Tell you what.  You and Gawaine agree to stand well back and away from the fighting, because I don’t want either of you hurt, and we’ll come out and have a battle!”

“No dice!” cries Gawaine.

But by then Launcelot’s men have already thrown the gates open and it’s too late to do anything but sally forth.

There’s a big ol’ battle at this point.  The Benwick knights mow through the many unnamed scrub knights that Arthur and Gawaine brought.  Sir Gawaine trounces Sir Lionel.

At the height of the violence, Sir Bors (fighting for his cousin Launcelot of course) dehorses Arthur.  He moves to melee, figuring that he can take Arthur out quickly, but Launcelot stops him, and gives Arthur a new horse.

Arthur spends most of the battle not fighting at a hundred percent on account of he’s weeping uncontrollably.  Forced to fight Launcelot!  So sad.

In the morning, after a full day of fighting, Sir Gawaine and Sir Bors end up doing one of those simultaneous de-horsings that seems to happen so much in Malory.  Both sides haul away their wounded, and Launcelot seals himself up inside Joyous Gard again.

All of the Benwick knights get together to compare notes and wounds.  Sir Lavaine and Sir Urre haven’t been part of Team Benwick for very long. They don’t know Launcelot so well, so after the battle they go to him and brag about how many of Arthur’s men they killed, expecting Launcelot to congratulate them.  Instead he just grumbles about how terrible it is to be fighting Arthur.

“This won’t end until either you or Arthur gets killed,” says Sir Palomides, and Launcelot knows he’s right.

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Primary Sources: Book XX Chapters 9 and 10

Alas, that ever I bare crown upon my head!” cries Arthur, when he hears about the massacre.  “The Round Table is ended, as I predicted.  We were running on fumes ever since the Grail quest; now we’re done.  Launcelot and his Benwick faction aren’t about to come back, hat in hand, and apologize.  And I can’t forgive the slaughter of more than thirty knights of the Round Table.  There’s no happy ending from this.”

King Arthur speaks to a collection of unspecifed knights, because basically all of his friends and confidantes are either dead, vanished, or in revolt.  The only knights he has left are Sir Gawaine and Sir Mordred.

“That reminds me,” he says, “nobody tell Gawaine about the loss of his so-called surviving brothers.  When he hears Gareth and Gaheris are dead, and that he’s the last of the Orkney faction, he will go night out of his mind.  Mercy Jesu! Why slew he Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris?  They were good men; they didn’t deserve that.  None of them deserved it.  Except maybe Agravaine, who was pretty much asking for it.  Ah Agravaine, Agravaine, Jesu forgive it thy soul, for thine evil will.”

One of Arthur’s knights takes the initiative, since Arthur has by this point just broken down sobbing, of finding Sir Gawaine and updating him about the massacre.

“I knew it would happen.  Launcelot wouldn’t let her burn.”  Gawaine sighs heavily.  “Gareth and Gaheris are okay, though, right?”  Seriously this is the first thing he asks.

“No, they died,” says the knight, because he forgot what Arthur had just told him.

“Liar!” Gawaine can’t believe it.  “Launcelot wouldn’t kill Gareth!  He and Gareth are buddy-buddy!”

“That’s what people are saying.”  The anonymous knight shrugs.

Alas, now my joy is gone.”  Gawaine stands there for a moment.  Then he collapses, and lies comatose for hours.  Eventually, he wakes up enough to sob.

Then he runs off to Arthur.  “Uncle Sire!  Gareth and Gaheris are dead!”

“I knooooow!” sobs Arthur, who had just then finally stopped crying.  He and Gawaine embrace one another and start sobbing all over again.

Gawaine wants to have the best funeral ever for his brothers, but Arthur’s already put them in the ground; he did it while Gawaine was unconscious with grief.  “It’s easier this way.”

“I suppose you’re right,” sniffles Gawaine.  “Well, I’m off to murder Sir Launcelot.  Or die in the attempt.  Either way.”

Not so fast, Gawaine!  King Arthur calls for a scribe, and drafts dozens of letters, one for each of his vassals.  He’s earned a whole pile of favors, in his decades as king, and he’s cashing those chips in: every man he can muster will join in a siege on Launcelot’s castle, Joyous Gard.

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