“It’s okay, everyone,” Arthur told the kneeling crowd. “It’s cool. Everybody up. C’mon, chop chop.”
Everybody slowly rose to their feet.
“Now, see, this is the kind of thing that happens when knights go out to have strange adventures. It starts off all smiles and candy, and then someone ends up bleeding to death. I need to lie down for a while, speaking of bleeding, but before we get to that… King Court is in session, Judge King Arthur presiding! Sir Damas! Sir Ontzlake!”
Sir Damas and Sir Ontzlake stepped forward to hear the king’s judgment.
“So, Damas, everybody tells me you’re a prick, and since you imprisoned me and twenty other knights, I can’t call them wrong. I was acting as your champion here, and I beat Accolon, Ontzlake’s champion, but I’m going to go ahead and use my kingly authority to declare you the loser of the bout anyway. Ontzlake gets all of your stuff: your house, whole inheritance, except once a year he has to give you the present of a walking-horse. Not a courser, because I’m trying to prove a point here, no, you don’t get the horse version of a muscle car, you get the horse version of a station wagon. I think that’s a fair disbursement of the estate.
“Also, no more kidnaping knights. In fact, release those twenty knights you had locked up, give them all their stuff back, and anything else they want. If any one of them comes to me later and said they aren’t satisfied with your efforts to make amends, I’ll send Gawaine or Griflet or somebody out to kill you, capiche?
“Now, Ontzlake, you’re allegedly a decent sort, even if you had Accolon for a champion, so before too long I expect to see you joining my court at Camelot, you hear? As a knight in my service, provided you’re appropriately virtuous, you’ll get fame and fortune greater than that of Damas’s. I mean, Damas’s before I confiscated his inheritance and gave it to you. You know what I mean.”
“Yessir, sire,” said Ontzlake. “I’d have fought you myself, instead of Accolon, if it weren’t for this dashed bad leg-wound.”
“Oh, if there’s one thing Merlin’s tedious ramblings have taught me,” said Arthur, “it’s that Providence shapes our ends. If this whole joust had gone down legit, with me armed with Excalibur fighting you, your children would be orphans. Do you have children? If you don’t, you’d gain some just so they could kneel weeping over your body sobbing daddy, daddy. What I’m saying is: you lucked out. I’m crazy badass. But thanks to Morgan’s unmotivated treachery, hey, you’re alive and you get a manor house out of the deal.”
“Dang, sire, you’re kingly,” said Ontzlake. “I mean, listening to this Solomanic wisdom you’re laying down here and your overall fairness and hella badassery, I’m amazed anyone would ever commit treason against you.”
“I’m as surprised as you are,” said Arthur. “And I mean to get to the bottom of that. Now, if you folks can just point me towards Camelot…”
“Camelot is two days’ hard ride along this road, sire,” said Ontzlake.
“Right,” said Arthur. “Oh, I almost forgot. I’ve been bleeding to death this whole time. Can someone take me to a convent?” And then he fell over and passed out, which makes this scene one of my favorites in all of Le Morte D’Arthur.
Ontzlake got Arthur and Accolon to a nearby convent, where the nuns washed them and cleaned their wounds and gave them many, many leeches. Arthur and Accolon drifted in and out of consciousness for four days. On the fourth day, Accolon died of his wounds, but Arthur’s felt much better. He had six knights load up a litter with Accolon’s body and sent them on ahead to Camelot, with a note for Morgan le Fay saying Hello Sister, I have Excalibur back. Love, your little brother Arthur.
While Arthur recuperated in the abbey, we turn to Morgan le Fay back at Camelot. She eagerly awaited the news of Arthur’s death, which should have been coming in any minute now, checking the calendar against her timetable. She’d had this whole scheme plotted out, you see, and she would have gotten away with it if Nimue hadn’t appeared, cast one spell, and then left again.
She checked in on her husband, taking a nap at the time, then called in Mildred. She’d really wanted to get confirmation Arthur was dead before pulling the trigger on this part, but she just couldn’t wait any longer.
“Mildred, go fetch my husband’s sword. I want to use it to murder him.”
“Dearest Ladyship, that seems like a bad plan –“
“Don’t care. Sword me.” She held out one hand and snaps her fingers with the other. “Sword! Chop chop.”
Mildred nodded, slowly, and backed out of the room. Rather than immediately fetch a sword, she rushed to find Sir Uwaine, Morgan’s son. He was also napping. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that if Uriens and Uwaine were asleep, it was probably night (which makes sense anyhow as a logical time for Morgan to decide to murder Uriens) and I’m being unfair in characterizing them as napping. To which I say: you don’t know Malory. He specifies that this happened during the day, just for laughs I guess. He doesn’t usually specify when things are happening.
Mildred woke Sir Uwaine, and told him all about how his mother Morgan had gone loco and wanted to murder Uriens.
“Right, okay,” said Uwaine. “I’m on it.”
Mildred then fetched Uriens’s sword, which was all pointy and scary and phallic and she was scared to hold it on account of she was a woman… That’s what it says! Jesus Malory, what did women ever do to you?
Morgan wasn’t afraid, of course. She took the sword from Mildred and pulled it from its sheathe before she sneaked into Uriens’s bedroom. As she stood over her husband, sword raised, watching him snore, Uwaine from out of nowhere grabbed her arm!
“What the hell, Mom?” he hissed. “What the hell? If you weren’t my mother I’d take this sword and cut your head off! Why are you trying to kill Dad? You’re making me empathize with Merlin! Men saith that Merlin was begotten of a devil, but I may say an earthly devil bare me. What the hell?”
“Shh,” said Morgan. “You’ll wake your father.”
Uriens rolled over in his sleep.
“Mommy just had a crazy moment, like ladies get sometimes, honey.” She stroked his cheek in a gentle, maternal way. “Shh. Let’s both put the swords down and I promise I’ll never try to murder your father again.”
“Well, okay,” said Uwaine. “If you promise.”
“Shh, it’s okay honey, Mommy still loves you, now you don’t tell anyone about this, okay?”
“…Yeah, okay, Mom.” So Sir Uwaine didn’t tell anyone about the incident or act against Morgan le Fay.
The next morning Accolon’s body and Arthur’s note arrived. Morgan recognized what it meant immediately; she was equal parts heartbroken, angry, and frightened. But since she couldn’t let on that she cared especially about Accolon, or that Arthur owning Excalibur was anything but good, she had to be all John Wayne tough-guy heart-of-flint about it, which just about killed her but she managed, because even Malory can’t deny that she was pretty badass.
Morgan visited Guenever, and said, casually, that she would be heading back to Gore.
“You should wait another few days,” Guenever said. “Arthur will be back, and he can see you off.”
“Nah, I’m just going to head out…”
“One more day, come now. You’ve been here in Camelot for, what, three months? You can’t stay even one extra day?”
“Well, all right. I’ll give Arthur your love.”
“Good-bye, Guenever. You, I liked. You’re too good for my brother.” And Morgan hugged Guenever goodbye and hopped on a horse and skedaddled. Uriens and Uwaine and Mildred the rest of their party she left behind, I guess.
Here’s another point at which continuity totally collapses. Morgan rode hard for a day and a half and got to the abbey where Arthur was recuperating. Which itself isn’t so bad, but apparently when she got there he’d been healing for only three days? Which contradicts the previously established timeline. And for some reason he was sleep-deprived, too. I just don’t get it.
Morgan introduced herself to the nuns as Arthur’s sister, and told them not to wake him before she said to. Then she stepped quietly into Arthur’s room, which the nuns didn’t think was too weird. Inside she saw Arthur lying in bed, snoring, holding Excalibur with one hand, doing that talking in your sleep thing you see in cartoons.
“Wuzza wuzza Merlin… no, no strange adventures…”
Morgan saw she couldn’t grab Excalibur without waking him, which foiled her new plan, but she stole the magic scabbard instead, and sneaked back out and rode off without explaining anything to the nuns.
A little while later, Arthur woke and saw his scabbard was gone. He complained to the nuns, who told him that his sister had taken it. He berated them for not doing a better job of watching over him, but they wouldn’t take his guff! If he hadn’t wanted his sister to have permission to root through his stuff and take things, then he should have said so. Good for the nuns, sticking up for themselves! It’s not like it had been obvious, even to Arthur, that Morgan was his enemy. She hugged Guenever goodbye!
Nevertheless the situation annoyed Arthur. He knew in his heart that the nuns weren’t to blame. He was just mad. “Bah!” said Arthur. He called in Sir Ontzlake. “How’d you like to be fast-tracked onto the Round Table?”
Shortly Arthur and Ontzlake were wearing Ontzlake’s best and second-best armor, respectively, riding Ontzlake’s best and second-best horses, respectively. Arthur had a new scabbard for Excalibur, but Ontzlake at least got to keep his best sword.
They rode for a bit and came across a terrified cowherd, who pointed them towards a forest. Up ahead Arthur spotted Morgan, and Morgan realized she was being followed! There was an exciting chase scene, which climaxed with Morgan’s horse screeching to a halt on an embankment overlooking a big lake.
“Curse Arthur and patriarchy and especially this scabbard!” shouted Morgan, and she threw the scabbard into the lake, splash, where it immediately sank, because magic items were very heavy. Then she hopped back on her horse, gunned the engine, and squealed out of there, staying ahead of Arthur and Ontzlake long enough to reach a big field full of boulders. There she used magic to transform herself and her horse and her knights (apparently she’d had some indeterminate number of knights along this whole time and Malory only just now bothers to mention them) into a few boulders.
Arthur and Ontzlake rode past, but they’ve lost her. Though they searched the field, they came up dry. Once the sun set Arthur gave up and returned to Camelot, cursing the whole time about those stupid nuns and how he’d lost his magic scabbard and so on.
As soon as it was safe to do so, Morgan dispelled her polymorph any object spell. “Whew,” she said to her men, who probably existed solely so that she’d have someone to deliver this line to. “Sirs, now we may go where we will.” Not a terribly witty line, Malory. I would have gone with “That’ll teach Arthur to give me the cold boulder.” Or “That’ll teach Arthur to take me for granite.”
I had to call in specialists for those puns. This is why I’m not a comedy writer. Moving on!
“Well,” Morgan said, “that surely was something. Arthur chasing after us, all mad like that…”
Morgan’s knights were not the bravest knights available. “Yeah!” said one.
“I don’t like Arthur!” agreed another.
“No! He’s scary!”
“So scary! I was so scared!”
“I wanted to run away but I couldn’t because I was polymorphed into a boulder!”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure you were very frightened.” Morgan rolled her eyes. “Now let’s get going; Gore is still several days off from here.”
She and her entourage proceeded across the landscape, riding all night. Shortly after dawn they encountered a pair of knights engaged in fun times: one was tied up and blindfolded on a horse, which horse another knight (who wasn’t tied up or blindfolded, and was in fact armed and armored) led.
“Ho, knight,” said Morgan to the guy clearly in charge. “What’s all this?”
“Avert your eyes from this varlet, ladyship,” said the knight in armor. “I’m going to throw him down that well over there.”
“Really? Good for you. Why?”
“Oh, you don’t even want to know, o delicate flower of ladyship. This cur was sleeping with my wife!”
“No!” Morgan feigned shock.
“Indeed! So naturally, into the well with him. Then I’m heading back to the manor, going to grab my wife, and toss her in after him.”
Morgan sighed. “Really? Throw your wife down a well? Really? Really?”
SMASH CUT to the knight sprawling on the ground, magic missile’d in the face. Morgan’s men tied him up and untied the other knight, and Morgan turned to the freed prisoner.
“So what’s your story, then? Do you plan on throwing any wives down wells?”
“No ma’am,” said the knight. “I didn’t even sleep with his wife, I swear.”
“I don’t care,” said Morgan. “Look at me. Do I look like I care? I don’t care. Wives should be able to sleep with anyone. No more marriages. Marriages are how men enslave women. Well, they aren’t the only way. There’s fifty bazillion ways men enslave women. Marriages are one of them, though.”
“What’s your name, knight?”
“I am Sir Manassen, of King Arthur’s Court, cousin to Sir Accolon of France and more recently of Gore, ladyship.”
“Oh!” Morgan put a hand to her lips. “I knew Sir Accolon.”
“I know, ma’am. You’re Queen Morgan of Gore, Arthur’s sister. Kind of a big deal.”
“It’s for Sir Accolon’s sake, then, that I do this.” Morgan had the other knight hog-tied, blindfolded, and stripped of his arms and armor, all of which she presented to Sir Manassen. Then everyone worked together and they managed to throw the other knight down the well.
Afterwards Sir Manassen declared an intent to return home to Camelot. He asked if Morgan had any messages she wanted sent along.
“Tell Arthur I rescued you not as a favor to him, but out of respect for the memory of Sir Accolon. Also, tell him I’m not scared of him because I can polymorph into gravel any time I like. Also also, tell everyone that I’ll be running Gore directly from now on, in a state of rebellion from Arthur’s rule. Uriens, he can stay in Camelot, go to hell, whatever, he’s not welcome in Gore. Nothing personal, but in my role as sovereign of Gore I’m dissolving our marriage. No more marriages. Oh, and say hi to Guenever, and I suppose my son Uwaine if you see him. I have to exile him from Gore, too.”
This set of messages surprised Sir Manassen, but he agreed to deliver them. They parted ways: he returned to Camelot, and Morgan le Fay went home to Gore. There, she closed the borders, and began an unprecedented military buildup, which would never pan out because nowhere in Le Morte D’Arthur do Morgan and Arthur go to actual war.
After Manassen arrived in Camelot, he passed along all of Morgan’s wishes to their respective parties, as he promised. Man, was Arthur ever pissed. He wasn’t not alone in his wrath, either: much of Camelot was talking about how what Morgan really needed is to be lit on fire. That would teach her!
Arthur muttered to himself about how he’d avenge himself on her, oh yeah, that would happen, definitely, just you wait, grumble grumble.
A week or so went by, and the darkened cloud yet hung over Camelot. And so it was when Mildred arrived from Gore, bearing a gift basket from Morgan and an apology note.
The gift basket contained a magic coat made out of diamonds, held together with golden wire. It was the shiniest thing anyone at Camelot had ever seen!
“Dear Arthur, sorry. Have a coat. We should talk more. Love, your sister Morgan,” read Mildred aloud.
Arthur just stared at the coat. Had Morgan had a sudden change of heart? Would Arthur don the magic coat? Would it explode, or was the magic coat ticking only because it contained an integrated clock?
Mildred held the coat up. “My, wouldn’t this look nice on you, sire? You have just the sort of features that are really brought out by diamonds strung together with golden wire…”
Then… in came Merlin!
No, wait, Malory almost forgot. He’d put Merlin in a rock at the start of Book IV. So in came Nimue! She was clearly annoyed at having to serve as a last-minute Merlin replacement.
“Sire!” she called, stomping into court from the back. “Sire! A word!”
Arthur squinted. He barely remembered Nimue, and was wholly ignorant of her new role as Substitute Merlin. “What?”
Nimue rolled her eyes. “Can I have a word with you in private? You can pretend I’m Merlin in disguise, if it’ll help.”
“I don’t like it any more than you do, trust me.”
“Just let it out, whatever you need to say, right here. It’s cool.”
“Magic evil coat,” Nimue said, pointing. “Get her to try it on first.” (NIMUE BATS CLEANUP 3!)
“Oh, oh, no, no no no no no. I couldn’t possibly.” said Mildred. “No no no no no no.”
This raised Arthur’s suspicions. “Go on,” he told her. “Try it on.”
“I could never pull off that look,” explained Mildred. “It’s all bejeweled and I’m just a mere Evil Queen’s Henchwoman, very low-ranking on the social ladder.”
“It’s cool,” said Arthur. “I hereby dub you my Royal Coat-Wearer, with all the privileges thereof. Now put it on before someone accidentally decapitates someone.”
Mildred stalled for as long as she could, but eventually she was out of options. She sighed, and put the coat on. As we all knew would probably happen, she immediately keeled over and melted away to ash. It was a pretty impressive special effect! So long, Mildred. Too bad for you, huh?
“Thanks, Merlin,” said Arthur, but Nimue had already left. You know, I had always assumed that Nimue was a villain in the Arthurian canon, what with her sealing Merlin up inside a magic rock. But this was the second time she saved Arthur’s life in this book alone! And, you know, now that we’ve seen Merlin operate up close and personal, sealing him inside a magic rock doesn’t seem like quite the heinous act one might first assume it to be.
Afterward Mildred’s death, King Arthur sat down with Uriens, who really had egg on his face what with the whole wife-trying-to-kill-Arthur thing. First off Uriens apologized on her behalf, and Arthur was like, man, it’s cool. “I know Morgan never really loved you and was having a longtime affair with Sir Accolon –“
“Wait, what?” This was news to King Uriens.
“So plainly you were ignorant of her schemes. I’m suspicious of Uwaine, though.”
“Uwaine’s a good boy!” Uriens had a lot to process just then, but he would still rally to his son’s defense. “Steadfast, good to his mother… oh, I see what you’re saying.”
“I’m going to lie down for a while, okay?”
“That’s cool.” Arthur pat Uriens on the back, and banished Sir Uwaine from Camelot.