“Hey, moaning knights!” he called out. “Who are you and why are you moaning?”
“We’re knights, twenty knights, that have been locked up here as prisoners,” one of them said. “We’ve all been here seven years.”
“Actually I have been here longer than that,” said another.
“And I have not been here that long,” said a third.
“Shut up, I’m explaining,” said the first one. “On average we have been here for seven years. Seven years is the arithmetic mean.”
“There’s a knight, a wicked villain named Sir Damas, and he has a younger brother named Sir Ontzlake.”
“With you so far,” said Arthur.
“Ontzlake wants his rightful inheritance, but Damas won’t give it to him, except for one manor house.”
“Ontzlake has challenged Damas to a joust, for the inheritance, but Damas is too cowardly to fight.”
“Damas therefore has been abducting knights and demanding that we fight Ontzlake in his stead.”
“For seven (plus or minus) years?”
“Yes. We’ve all refused, because he’s a terrible person, but he keeps abducting knights from strange adventures! He hides throughout the countryside and waits until a knight on a strange adventure falls asleep, then brings them here! Eighteen of us have already died!”
“That’s dreadful,” said Arthur.
“Now we’re all so weak and hungry and light-deprived that we’ve got rickets and scurvy and so on!”
“You poor fellas,” said Arthur.
Not for nothing but you guys don’t know how many words Malory spends laying this situation out; it’s like a full chapter’s worth of longwinded exposition I tell you.
Some time after he’d been apprised of the situation, a damosel approached Arthur. Let’s call her Mildred.
“Good morning, sire,” she said, and winked at Arthur.
“Not really,” he said.
“If you agree to fight for my lord Damas,” she said, “I’m authorized to take you out of this prison. Otherwise, you’ll rot here.” She winked again.
“Hmm,” said Arthur. “It’s a tough choice. This Damas seems like a real piece of work. I can see why thirty-eight knights have chosen slow death. It’s not my style, though. I’ve thought it over, and I’m willing to fight for Damas, on one condition. He has to free these twenty guys he’s locked up.”
“I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” said Mildred, “strange knight whom I have never met before.” She winked a third time.
“Oh, also I’ll need my armor and sword and shield back, and a horse too,” said Arthur.
“Of course, sire, I mean, stranger,” said Mildred. “That goes without saying.” One more wink for good measure.
“Do I know you?” asked Arthur. “Are you Merlin in disguise?”
“Finally!” cried Mildred. “I mean, no, sire. I mean, no, stranger. Wink wink.”
“Did you just say wink wink?”
“No,” said Mildred, nodding yes.
“I remember now,” said Arthur. “You’re my sister Morgan’s lady-in-waiting!”
“I am not!” said Mildred, nodding yes again.
“No? I guess I’m mistaken,” said Arthur.
Mildred slapped her forehead. In Arthur’s defense, it’s really dark in there.
Mildred (who was indeed Morgan le Fay’s agent) went to Damas, her putative employer, to tell him about how Arthur had agreed to fight for him. Damas tried to remember when he’d hired her, but anyway, he was pleased. He swore that if Arthur defeated Ontzlake (or Ontzlake’s champion) then Damas would free the twenty knights he took prisoner. Mildred relayed the offer back to Arthur; in return, Arthur swore to fight as hard as he would have if he had been doing it of his own free will.
Sir Accolon also came to, eventually. He was neither back at Camelot nor in Damas’s prison. Instead he woke lying precariously close to the edge of a remarkably luxurious well, artesian with a lovely marble fronting and silver pipe and it was very pretty and no, I don’t know why Malory tosses in this particular detail. As he looked around and admired this well, Accolon saw that Uriens and Arthur weren’t around! He assumed that the twelve damosels from the magic silk ship were to blame, and started swearing and looking around for them.
Instead, he found Peter the dwarf. Remember Peter?
“Accolon! There you are!” he cried. “I bring tidings from Queen Morgan le Fay! I’m working for her now apparently!”
“Yeah? What up?” asked Accolon.
“You’re going to be fighting King Arthur later,” said Peter. “I’ve got no dog in that fight myself. Morgan stage-managed this whole tournament thing. Apparently she thinks you promised to murder Arthur for her? Now’s she’s giving you a chance to make good on your drunken boast.”
“Huh,” said Accolon. “I don’t remember that.”
“Well, that’s what she said,” said Peter. “On my way here I stopped by with her lady-in-waiting Mildred, whom she placed as an advance agent, and picked up Arthur’s sword Excalibur and his magic scabbard that prevents blood loss, and here they are for you yo use against Arthur.” He handed the aforementioned items over. “She says that she’ll arrange for you to be king, and Mildred your queen, in Camelot afterwards. Actually it was Mildred who said the part about her becoming your queen. I don’t know. Do you even know Mildred?”
Accolon didn’t answer the question, instead he examined Excalibur. “Well, look at that,” said Accolon. “I guess I must have promised to kill Arthur, if Morgan went to the trouble of stealing this nice +1 sword for me. Have you seen Morgan recently?”
“Just now,” said Peter.
“Okay,” said Accolon, grabbing Peter’s shoulders in a definitely non-platonic way. “Go back to her, hold her shoulders like this, and tell her I said I’d do what she claims I promised I’d do.”
“Fine,” said Peter.
“So Morgan has stage-managed this whole strange adventure?”
“That’s the impression I’m under at the moment,” said Peter. “Case in point,” he added, and pointed over Accolon’s shoulder before teleporting out.
Behind Accolon had come riding up a knight and a lady and six squires, to water at the artesian well. The knight introduced himself as Sir Ontzlake, and invited Accolon to visit his manor house. Accolon accepted the offer. Dramatic musical sting!
As they headed back to Ontzlake’s nice manor house, along came a messenger from Damas. Damas had found a knight champion, the message said, and tomorrow morning Ontzlake had better be ready to joust the champion or else provide a champion of his own.
“Crap,” said Ontzlake. “Of course it would happen this weekend!”
“Why, what’s the matter?” asked Accolon.
“I’ve got this bad cut across my thighs,” said Ontzlake. “From my joust last weekend. It’ll take a while to recover, and until then I’m at a severe disadvantage.”
Accolon could see where this is going. “Tell you what, you’ve given me wine and cheese, the least I can do is joust the champion for you.”
“Sure, why not?” said Accolon. He fingered Excalibur and the magic scabbard significantly.
The next morning Arthur prepared to joust, and a tourney ground was set up, with knights from the surrounding area come to watch (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 5!). Arthur went to church, at Damas’s insistence (an odd detail but, whatever Malory). Just before the joust was about to start, Mildred came running over to Arthur with a fake Excalibur and a fake scabbard. She explained that she was secretly working for Morgan le Fay, and that she was on Arthur’s side, and that she’d stolen back from Damas his magical sword and scabbard. She gave him these counterfeit items, and he thanked her.
Little did Arthur know that the scabbard wasn’t magical and the fake Excalibur was all primed to shatter at an inopportune moment! Dramatic musical sting!
Arthur and Accolon jousted. Arthur didn’t know it was Accolon, because of course they were both wearing face-concealing jousting-helmets. Also Accolon didn’t announce his name constantly the way Arthur tended to. They jousted, and they were jousting, and a joust happened.
Malory claims it’s exciting, but meh.
Nimue wandered up unexpectedly during the joust. Now that Merlin was no longer available to randomly cast spells and set unexpected craziness in motion, it was Nimue’s job apparently. Nimue had divined this whole plot of Morgan le Fay’s to murder Arthur and install Accolon on the throne of Camelot, and she was on Arthur’s side. So she positioned herself in Arthur’s corner and got ready to cast a spell as soon as the time was right. (NIMUE BATS CLEANUP 2!)
The time was not right for, like, hours. Arthur pounded on Accolon, Accolon pounded on Arthur, blah blah blah. Soon Arthur bled from a dozen small cuts. He’d pegged Accolon at least as much, but Accolon had the magic scabbard that prevented bleeding: while Arthur slowly died of blood loss, Accolon was sitting pretty.
At this point Arthur began to suspect that Accolon has gotten ahold of Excalibur somehow and he’d been saddled with a fake. He didn’t think so much about how he’d been bleeding even though he had a supposedly-magic scabbard, which I take to mean that all of the fighting Arthur had done since he got that scabbard he just hadn’t been wounded enough to bleed anyway, so now that the scabbard wasn’t working he was just, like, feh, that scabbard never worked I guess. Or maybe he was just distracted.
Anyway, given this mismatch in terms of gear, the only reason Accolon didn’t win in the first few minutes is because Arthur was just so badass. Malory’s description of this is priceless and there’s no way I could ever improve upon it: Arthur was so full of knighthood that he knightly endured the pain.
Everybody watching the joust was of the opinion that Arthur was winning on points, because even though he’d gotten sliced up, he’d laid into Accolon incredibly well, especially considering how badly he was bleeding. Everybody was cheering for Arthur!
He called a thirty-second timeout, and took a knee. Accolon was all cocky with Excalibur on the one hand, and on the other hand he was annoyed at the crowd for designating him the heel and Arthur the face. Accolon decided to play the heel to the hilt; he charged over at Arthur, ignoring the timeout!
Accolon smacked Arthur like as to behead him! Arthur parried! The faux-Excalibur Mildred gave him snapped in two.
I don’t know why, but Nimue kept holding her action. The time was not yet right. Arthur was now disarmed and badly bleeding, so, you know, things weren’t looking great. Perhaps Nimue had learned how to be helpful from Merlin.
Accolon paced around Arthur, toying with him, flashing Excalibur at him. “Knight (whom I totally don’t know is really King Arthur),” he said, “you’re beaten! Surrender and I won’t kill you! It wouldn’t be sporting to kill you, as badly as you’re already beaten. I’m the heel, but come on. Your sword broke, dude. Fight over!”
“Nope,” said Arthur. “Not going to do it. See, I promised this guy that if he released his twenty prisoners I’d fight to my last breath, and here we are. I’m not going back on that. If that means you have to kill me while I’m unarmed, then it’ll be your shame, not mine.”
“Damn it,” said Accolon, “then I guess I’m wasting my time talking to a dead man.” He walloped Arthur hard, intending to knock him down and end the fight, but then Arthur executed an extremely improbable move. Somehow he turned getting knocked down into a low flying tackle, and ended up slamming into Accolon with his shield. I don’t get it either. It’s some kind of crazy jousting judo move, redirecting Accolon’s momentum back onto him? Anyway, Arthur was still the best.
While dramatic, this move didn’t actually net Arthur anything; he was still unarmed and Accolon still had Excalibur. It did, however, finally inspire Nimue, still watching the joust from Arthur’s corner, to go ahead and finally take action. Accolon swung Excalibur at Arthur, and thanks to Nimue’s magic, he swung so hard that Excalibur went flying out of his hands! Another spell nowhere to be found in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. Then, confident she’s been more helpful than Merlin would have been under the circumstances, Nimue left.
Arthur snatched up Excalibur, naturally, and immediately he recognized it. “Bad Excalibur!” he scolded it. “Bad sword! You shouldn’t go running off like that!” And then he turned to Accolon with his steely eye, and realized that Accolon had Arthur’s personal magic scabbard on his belt.
“Hey! Not only do you have my magic sword, you have my magic scabbard!” Arthur grabbed the scabbard, ripped it off of Accolon, and threw it out into the stands! The crowd went wild! Accolon suddenly started gushing blood from all the places Arthur had wounded him before!
Arthur shooks his head in wonder. “Man, guy, this is how it is. You hurt me pretty badly with my own magic sword, and now I’ve got it, and you have no magic scabbard protecting you, and basically this is it for you, guy, fair warning.” And then Arthur hit him one time with Excalibur and Accolon collapsed with his helmet flying off of him and landing somewhere near the scabbard!
Accolon bled from the eyes and the nose and the ears and the mouth!
“Now you’re going to die,” said Arthur.
Accolon burbled through the blood something about how great Arthur was and how Accolon had been a fool to agree to fight him, but agree to fight him he did and Accolon couldn’t go back on that.
Arthur paused, because with Accolon’s helmet off he thought he recognized the guy. It was tricky, because of how bashed-in Accolon’s face was (recall just the same problem with Balin and Balan back in Book II?) so Arthur asked Accolon his name, before he slew him.
Accolon confirmed that he was Sir Accolon, of the court of King Arthur, knight one rank below the Knights of the Round Table.
“Well hell! Accolon, my sister’s lover! Accolon, with whom just yesterday I was having a strange adventure involving a free meal on a ship lined with silk!” cried Arthur. He immediately sheathed Excalibur. “Accolon, what the hell? How did you come to be jousting me with my own sword? What kind of lousy strange adventure is happening here? Is it a separate strange adventure, or more of the same one?”
Accolon had no answers. “Aw, man,” he moaned. “This whole Excalibur-wielding plan really didn’t work out. Now you’re going to kill me.”
“Well, maybe,” said Arthur. “Explain!”
“Queen Morgan le Fay stole Excalibur way back in Book II,” Accolon said. “I’ve been keeping it under my pillow, and just yesterday she sent it to me to wield against you. For understand King Arthur is the man in the world she most hateth –“
“Hold on,” said Arthur. “You’ve had Excalibur how long?”
“The timeline is really indefinite. Maybe a year?” Accolon gestured. “Book II, Chapter XI. You loaned Morgan your scabbard, remember?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t lend her Excalibur with it! She was interested in the scabbard because it prevents blood loss and she was a necromancy major. Why would I lend her my magic sword?”
“Nevertheless, sire,” said Accolon. “Perhaps it’s another of those continuity errors I hear them talk about so much lately.”
“And why go to the trouble of placing Mildred in Damas’s service, if not to steal Excalibur and the scabbard? And if stealing one, may as well steal the other at the same time! And furthermore: for this claim to work, I would have been without a magical scabbard that prevents blood loss for half of Book II, all of Book III, and Book IV up to now. I fought a couple of sizable battles in there, did I just not notice that I bled when cut?”
“It just doesn’t make sense. I wish Merlin were here so I could blame him.” Arthur sighed heavily. “Anyway. You were saying?”
“King Arthur is the man in the world that she most hateth, because he is most of worship and of prowess of any of her blood; also she loveth me out of measure as paramour, and I her again; and if she might bring about to slay Arthur by her crafts, she would slay her husband King Uriens lightly, and then had she me devised to be king in this land, and so to reign, and she to be my queen; but that is now done, for I am sure of my death,” said Accolon.
“Why? What’d I ever do to her? I made her husband a Knight of the Round Table, I went hunting with her lover, I loaned her my magic scabbard and Excalibur too apparently, and I had her over for dinner at least once! There’s no textual support for me being anything but pleasant to her! Was she jealous because I slept with Margawse and not her? I didn’t sleep with Elaine, either, and you don’t hear her complaining.”
“Morgan hates you, sire,” said Accolon. “It’s a fact.”
“I just don’t see why.”
“Not everyone is going to like you,” said Accolon. “She’s jealous of your knightly knighthood and how though you’re siblings, you get to be king and she doesn’t.”
“Protofeminism presented as dangerously subversive again. And she’s even a witch, too.”
“Also, like I just said, she was going make me king of all England-Britain-Logris, and not just king of her in the bedchamber. She had this whole scheme for us to kill you and King Uriens her husband, and then I’d rule England-Britain-Logris and she’d be my queen, but of course that isn’t going to happen now what with my dying and so on.”
“Well, I suppose it’s reasonable to want to kill me and take my throne, but yeah, you are probably going to die now. I hit you pretty hard.”
“Just to confirm, you are King Arthur, right?” asked Accolon.
“Dang. I was hoping maybe I was delirious from blood loss and hallucinating you. Dang it. Sorry, sire. I really screwed this one up.”
“It’s okay,” said Arthur. “I forgive you, because I’m that kind of guy. Really I’m legit pissed at Morgan, since, as I asserted above, I’ve been nothing but nice to her. Trusted her like, really, a sister.”
Then Arthur straightened up and called for some guys, and some guys ran up. He told them “listen, we’re both pretty badly wounded, and so we’re calling this joust a draw, and I’m hoping you can help us get some medical attention, and really, if I’d known this was Accolon, I wouldn’t have started jousting him in the first place. Or maybe I would, I don’t know, but I really should have had that information up front.”
“He’s King Arthur!” cried Accolon, very weakly but loud enough for the some guys to have heard.
“Yeah, that too,” said Arthur, as everybody within earshot reflexively bowed (All the people fell down on their knees, says Malory).