As our story opens, Arthur received a message from King Rience of North Wales. Remember that guy? Nobody liked him? It seems that he had been making trouble in Ireland and Wales. He may or may not have defeated Team Lot & Mister 100 in battle. Malory is cagey about that even though he asserted earlier that Team Lot & Mister 100 slew Rience. Now Malory is Mister Flippety-Floppity saying that no, Rience defeated eleven kings. Maybe not the same eleven kings as Team Lot & Mister 100, but maybe it was! Only time and further textual inconsistencies continuity errors shocking twists will tell!
Rience’s methodology here was entertainingly dickish. He tried to meet the king in battle and force his surrender, and if the king wouldn’t ride out to battle him, he’d just wander through the king’s territory setting serfs on fire and rustling cattle. Either way, he lay out an ultimatum: the king could either shave his beard and turn it over to Rience as a symbol of his emasculation, or else Rience would also accept the king’s severed head.
“This guy sounds like a real piece of work,” said Arthur. “No wonder everyone hates him. I should have killed him back when I rescued Leodegrance from him.”
The messenger coughed politely, as he was still waiting for Arthur’s response.
“You tell that guy that he’s an ass, and that I said so,” said Arthur. “And I’ve barely gotten old enough to grow a beard, no way I’m shaving it off for him or anyone. I’ve met Rience in battle but never had a sit-down with him, and it sounds like I dodged a bullet there. You tell him that I want him to surrender to me, although I’m not interested in any of this thinly-veiled homoerotic ritual shaving nonsense. Now get out.”
The messenger left, and everyone started tut-tutting about this turn of events. Arthur wrote RIENCE on his royal whiteboard in red marker, and underlined it.
“Anyone here know anything about Rience that I don’t? Raise a hand. Merlin, I am not calling on you, I don’t want to hear it.” Arthur said. “You, there, Sir… uh…”
“Sir Naram, sire,” whispered Sir Ulfius.
“Naram, right, a good man. Sorry, Naram. Didn’t recognize you there with that helmet on.”
“I’m not wearing a helmet,” said Sir Naram.
“That’s the spirit,” said Arthur. “So, you had your hand up. You know Rience?”
“Yep,” said Sir Naram.
“And? What can you tell us about him?”
“Rience, well…” Naram stared off into space, thought about it. “He’s tough,” he finally said.
“Great, thanks,” said Arthur. He wrote TOUGH on the whiteboard, under RIENCE.
“Okay, I think we’ve learned a lot today,” Arthur said. “I don’t doubt this crucial intelligence will prove key in defeating Rience, great job everyone.” He dusted his hands off, looked around. “Merlin, you still have your hand up. I told you I don’t want to hear it.”
“You can’t stop me,” said Merlin. “I’ve got news for you that has nothing to do with Rience.”
“Am I going to like this?” asked Arthur.
“Depends. The one who will destroy you, he’s been born. It was not very long ago that he was born. His birthday is the first of May,” said Merlin. “Hint, hint.”
“I feel like we’ve already talked about this,” said Arthur. “But I blocked out the details. Someone destroying me rings a bell, though.”
“First of May,” said Merlin.
“Okay, here’s what we do. We get everyone whose birthday is the first of May,” said Arthur. “All the little kids.”
“Then we load them onto a boat, and we send them away to die at sea!” cried Merlin.
“What? No,” said Arthur. “We should… um… darn it, I can’t think of a good way to end this sentence. Fine, we’ll do it your way.” Inexplicable choice there, Arthur!
So that happened. Arthur called for all the boys whose birthday is the first of May to be sent to his court. Boys from all over Arthur’s nation poured into Caerlaeon. Also Queen Morgawse, Lot’s wife, Arthur’s half-sister whom he slept with, you remember? Mordred’s mother? She sent along infant Mordred, too.
All these babies showed up at court, it was so babies, totally babies. Some of them were almost a year old, some of them were a month old, some of them were less than a month old, Malory tells us, because apparently he’s forgotten how birthdays work. Arthur loaded them all up on a ship and they sailed off into the ocean, where they hit a rock and the boat sprang a leak and it sank and everyone aboard drowned.
Sole survivor was Mordred, little baby doom-of-Arthur Mordred, who washed ashore and was found by a kindly fisherman and we’ll hear from him again, but this story won’t ever come up again, which makes you wonder what the point was.
When everyone heard about how Arthur took their sons and sent them off to die at sea, they got good and mad, although mostly people blamed Merlin for giving Arthur such lousy advice rather than the young King himself. Since they liked Arthur and they feared Merlin, they didn’t rise up in revolt or complain too loudly, except for King Rience, that ass, who decided it’s a good pretext to invade Logris-England-Britain.