The Tale of Sir Launcelot and Sir Turquine is the first of many stories focusing on the more-or-less hero of Le Morte D’Arthur, Sir Launcelot du Lake. As I mentioned back in Book IV, Malory loves him some Launcelot. Book VI begins with his description of how, in the indeterminate period following the end of Book V, the Knights of the Round Table fought at tournaments like crazy tournament fighters. They jousted, they contested, they contended. They tossed cabers, they arm-wrestled, they played 5v5 Team Fortress 2 LAN matches and sealed-deck Magic: the Gathering tournaments. Some of Arthur’s knights won a lot (Sir Pellas the Good, Sir Kay), some knights won a little (Sir Gawaine, Sir Lucan). Some earls and dukes won less than some lower-class knights; nobility of birth is no predictor for skill at arms. And the greatest of the knights was, of course, Sir Launcelot du Lake.
Launcelot never lost, ever. Sometimes it seemed like he was going to lose, but then it turned out he really won, by some secret method where it only looked like a loss. Sometimes he seemed to lose, but it turned out the other side had been cheating or using magic. Launcelot was just the greatest, okay? He’s the best, says Malory. At this stage of Le Morte D’Arthur we’ve already met a bunch of badass knights. You remember them: Mister 100 with his One Hundred Knights, One Hundred Blows secret technique, Balin with his Lady-Slaying Stab, Gawaine with his Petulant Crybaby Sneak Attack Massive Skull-Crushing Smash, Pellas with his Married to Nimue Fatality Move, Pellinore with his King of the Assholes Style and Arthur with his Rightful Ruler of England Prana. Plus there was that time Sir Kay just totes killed two knights, and so on. Malory admits that those were all very skilled knights, even Sir Gawaine. But Launcelot was better than any of them, you guys. He always won. Launcelot was the best. He’s so dreamy!
Guenever certainly thought so! As you probably already know if you grew up anywhere in Western civilization, Launcelot was Queen Guenever’s favorite, out of all the knights in Arthur’s court. She sent him kerchiefs and mittens. She bought him socks, which everyone knows was a clear sign of interest. True story: once a woman I knew, a platonic friend, bought me socks, and another friend observed that the only women who buy you socks were your mother or your wife; that woman is now my wife. Sir Launcelot reciprocated with poetry, and dedications of his victories to her. He killed giants in her name, and (spoiler alert) he rescued her from fires. And this was the status quo for a fair chunk of time, until the eldest of Launcelot’s brothers and cousins, Lionel, came to Arthur’s court to become a knight. This is another continuity error, since Sir Lionel participated in the fighting in France in Book V.
“Brother!” cried Sir Launcelot. “Make ready, for we two will seek strange adventures!”
Malory doesn’t explain Launcelot’s motivation for making this offer. Launcelot would spend the bulk of Book VI riding around alone, actively avoiding any team-ups with other knights; why he invited Lionel along in the first place was thus unclear. Malory also fails to record Lionel’s response, but I imagine it was enthusiastic.
Launcelot and Lionel stayed up all night praying, making plans, and loading up their horses. Bright and early they set out from Camelot, riding across some stock footage of a forest and a castle and so on. Roundabout noon they reached terrain that resembles Nebraska: empty fields and wheat.
“Man, I’m tired for some reason,” said Launcelot. “Wouldn’t mind taking a break and getting some napping in.”
“I’m young and eager,” asserted Lionel. “But look, there’s an apple tree over there. It’s shady; you and the horses can rest while I keep watch.”
“Great,” said Launcelot. “I’m as tired as I’ve been any time in the last eight years.” So perhaps it’s been eight years since Launcelot’s first arrival to Camelot? This is my speculation based on the dialogue.
Regardless, Launcelot and Lionel ride over to the apple tree, and they dismount. While Lionel keeps watch, Launcelot takes his helmet off to use it as a pillow and lies down and falls asleep, in his armor, pretty much instantly. (LAUNCELOT NAP 1!)
Just then, three knights approached at speed. Lionel could see a fourth knight chasing them. This fourth knight, Sir Turquine, looked like some kind of circus strongman; if he hadn’t been decked out in armor and riding a (large) horse, he might have been mistaken for a giant.
Lionel watched impassively as Turquine ran down the three fleeing knights. He got them one after the other, whop whop whop, unhorsing them with his long spear. Once they were on the ground, the giant knight circled back, dismounted, and tied the incapacitated knights up.
This prompted Sir Lionel to intervene. “Seeing as how this seven foot tall, three hundred pound giant of a knight rode down and easily defeated three men, I’m sure I, as a freshly-minted brand-new knight with essentially no real-world experience, can take him! After all, I’m from Benwick! I’ll just have to be quiet when I do it, so I don’t wake up Launcelot! Roll for initiative, strange knight!”
Most of one combat round later, Lionel and the other three knights were bound hand and foot, thrown over Turquine’s horse. Turquine bore them back to his home, the eponymous Castle Turquine. There he stripped them, beat them, and threw them into a oubliette. There were a bunch of other knights down there, that Sir Turquine had already captured.
Launcelot sleeps through the whole thing.
Back at Camelot Malory introduces us to a new knight! Sir Ector, but not the Sir Ector who raised Arthur. No, this was Ector the Lesser, Sir Ector de Maris, Launcelot’s other brother unless he was a cousin. Like Lionel, Ector the Lesser was younger than Launcelot. Ector had overslept, and in the morning he was pissed because he had wanted to go off on the strange adventure with Launcelot and Lionel and either there was miscommunication or they outright ditched him, Malory is vague. Either way, Ector loaded up and rode off in the same general direction as Launcelot and Lionel, across the woods and the stock footage and so on. He didn’t find Launcelot immediately, but he did find a man who might have been a forester.
Maybe he was just dressed like a forester. Malory’s vague about that, too.
“Sirrah!” Ector said to the probable forester. “Have you seen my brother-cousin Sir Launcelot?”
“No? How about my other brother-cousin Sir Lionel, you seen him?”
“Listen, old man, I’m looking for a strange adventure, already in progress. Can you point me in the right direction?”
“Hmm. A strange adventure, you say?”
“Only strange adventure in these parts would be over at Castle Turquine. They’ve got a tree over there where they hang the shields of knights who lose to Turquine in battle, plus an old copper wash-tub that’s been converted into a gong.”
“Great, thanks.” Ector turned to go.
But the forester had one more thing to say! “Also thou hast the fairest grace that many a year had ever knight that passed through this forest.”
“…are you hitting on me?”
“I’m not not hitting on you…”
“Gramercy!” exclaimed Ector, and departed. He went in the direction the forester had indicated, and sure enough arrived outside Castle Turquine. There he saw a tree where, sure enough, hung a great many shields, including Sir Lionel’s shield.
“Lionel!” cried Ector. He assumed that Turquine or someone had slain Lionel, and sobbed and shouted at the heavens for his poor dead brother. He pounded on the gong, demanding retribution, and then he watered his horse while he waited for someone to show up.
Someone did show up! Turquine! He was just as large meeting Ector as he had been capturing Lionel! Ector had expected a much smaller knight.
Still, to Ector’s credit I guess, he went through with the joust. Ector and Turquine rode at one another, and Ector managed to catch Turquine under one arm, and unhorsed him! “Well, good for you, tiny man,” boomed Turquine. “No one’s unhorsed me in twelve years! I like you, you’ve got moxie! If you surrender now, I’ll keep you alive as my prisoner!”
“Have it your way then, I’ll take you prisoner anyway,” said Turquine, and beat Ector within an inch of his life and threw him into the oubliette alongside Lionel and the various other knights Turquine’s taken prisoner.
“Lionel! You’re alive!”
“Ector? What are you doing here?”
“Where’s Sir Launcelot?”
“Last I saw him, he was sleeping under an apple tree.”
“Quiet, both of you,” said the knights who had been in the oubliette for a while already. “Quit with your talk of Launcelot and apple trees and rescue. No one can rescue us! Surely no knight exists who can defeat our captor Turquine!”
You’re probably expecting Launcelot to wake up, discover Lionel is missing, track him down, slay Turquine, and free everybody, right? I know I would be expecting that. This story takes a weird turn, though. Let’s turn our attention back to Launcelot, last seen taking a nap. More or less simultaneous with Ector’s misadventure last chapter, Launcelot slept under an apple tree while a foursome of ladies traveled up the road.
This was a classy, high-end foursome; they didn’t go riding out at midday without some protection. Spread out around them they had a group of knights with lances, and a big green silk sheet was tied to the end of each lance. The knights held the lances up, which made a portable sunshade for the ladies.
And furthermore this was not just any foursome of classy ladies, this was, in actuality, Queen Morgan le Fay and her golf buddies. We join their conversation, already in progress.
“…and you’re expected to just take it. Reason number three hundred and six that it’s terrible to be a woman in Arthurian England, odds are super high you won’t even rate a name. Reason number three hundred and seven that it’s terrible to be a woman in Arthurian England, embroidery is stupid and boring.”
“Hey now, Morgan, I like embroidery.”
“Because you’re stupid and boring. Reason number three hundred and eight that it’s terrible to be a woman in Arthurian England, you aren’t allowed to carry a sword. Reason number three hundred and nine…”
“Morgan, hold on, who is that?” One of Morgan’s friends pointed at the prone snoring figure under the apple tree.
Morgan squinted and pointed. “Holy… that’s Sir Launcelot!”
“Is it? It is!”
“What’s he doing out here?”
“Who cares? I’m going to seduce him!”
“Hey, yeah! God only knows my life is crazy-bigtime unstimulating, seducing Launcelot sounds great!”
“Well, we can’t all seduce him at once –“
“Let’s mud-wrestle for him! Or we could lingerie-fight?”
“What? No,” said Morgan le Fay. “We’re not doing that. First things first.” Morgan waved her hands and did a little magic, casting deeper slumber on Launcelot. “Okay, he’ll be out for a good six hours. Men, carry him back to my castle! We’ll figure out who sleeps with him once we get there.”
Back at Morgan’s castle (she had several, but this particular one was Castle Chariot), Morgan and her friends the Queen of Northgalis, the Queen of Eastland, and the Queen of the Out Islands all talked it over. They eventually agreed that it should be Launcelot’s choice which of them got to take him on as a lover; otherwise his heart might not have been in it and that wouldn’t have been as much fun.
In the morning, Launcelot woke up (finally!). He startled, because he went to sleep under an apple tree and then he was in a bed in a castle somewhere. “What? What happened? Where am I?”
“Silly Launcelot,” said Morgan, who sat with her friends in one corner of the bedroom. “Is this your first strange adventure? This is how they always go. You’re all the time falling asleep in once place and waking up in another.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Oh, I know more than your name. I know you’re King Ban’s son, a prince of Benwick, Knight of the Round Table, and longtime secret lover of Guenever –“
Launcelot objected. “Not her secret lover! We’re completely chaste! Emotional intimacy only, no physical intimacy!”
“Mmm-hmm. Anyway, that’s all over now. I’m Morgan le Fay, Queen of Gore, you may have heard of me? And these are my three friends, who are also queens. We’ve decided you can be the lover of one of us. We want physical intimacy.”
“Emotional intimacy!” interjected the Queen of Northgalis.
“Physical and emotional intimacy both,” clarified the Queen of Eastland.
“Yeah, that’s why we’re letting you pick,” said the Queen of the Out Islands, because she wanted a line of her own, too, if the other queens were getting one.
Launcelot would have none of it, though. “And if I refuse?”
“Aw, come on, be a sport!” Morgan and her friends really wanted Launcelot to go along with this more-or-less of his own will. “I suppose we’d keep you prisoner until you died of grief or something. But Launcelot, I don’t want to do that, I just want you to do for me what you’ve been doing for Guenever.”
“Whoa! Okay, first off, you’re a bunch of witches and I choose none of you, I’ll just be a prisoner until I die. Secondly, and this is the big one, I’ve got to insist you quit slandering Dame Guenever like that! She’s good and pure and chaste and perfect and sweet and wonderful!”
“Whatever. I didn’t come here to badmouth Guenever. I like Guenever. But just to be clear, you’re choosing isolation and eventual death over sex?”
“Well, we’ll see how you feel in a week or two,” snapped Morgan. She and her lady-friends stomped out. Morgan le Fay did not like not getting her way.
Hours later a maiden, Becca, entered in with Launcelot’s dinner: a plate of cold stew for Launcelot, and a pitcher of ale. She asked him how he was holding up.
“Not great. I’m a prisoner of Morgan le Fay and her sorceress-queen bridge club.”
“Whatever. My point is, it sucks.”
“I can see why you’d think that,” said Becca. “I’d love to help you out. But you need to help me out, you know? I need you to do something, and it’s not an evil thing or anything, but you need to promise.”
“If it’ll get me away from Morgan le Fay, sure,” said Launcelot. “She’s scary.”
“I know you’re Sir Launcelot du Lake, most flowery blossom of the flower of chivalry, who never loses at tournaments. My father’s going to be in a tournament next Tuesday, and he’s lost the last three bouts, because the other side has been bringing in ringers from King Arthur’s court.”
“Wait, who’s your father?”
“He used to be at Camelot — Sir Bagdemagus?”
“Bagdemagus!” cried Launcelot. “I know him. He was up for Round Table membership early in Book IV. I’ll absolutely help him out, fight on his side in this tourney.”