Dejected, Launcelot wandered off. He searched for a spiritual advisor to help him, as Nacien had done before. But the Grail quest was over, Nacien gone! Instead Launcelot stumbled into the hermitage where the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bedivere dwelled. Bedivere recognized Launcelot immediately, and welcomed and praised him. When Launcelot had heard all of Bedivere’s story, he decided to stay there, in the hermitage.
Meanwhile Launcelot’s coterie of knights rode across England, searching for Launcelot. He’d told them to go back to Benwick without him, but not all of them were willing to just give up on him like that. Sir Lionel searched for him in London, and ended up starting a small war there and dying, whoopsy.
But Sir Bors found Launcelot one morning, at the hermitage, and ended up joining them. So too did, eventually, Sir Blamore and a half-dozen more of Launcelot’s close associates. Sir Launcelot, Sir Bors, Sir Blamore, and Sir Bleoberis! Also Sir Galihud, Sir Galihodin, Sir Gahalantine, Sir Villiars, and Sir Clarras! They were all hermit-monks together, with Sir Bedivere and the Archbishop of Canterbury! It was like one of those 1960s sitcoms with eleven men and zero women.
Malory flashed forward seven years. Everything was the same, except Launcelot had become a priest. The hermits had become a regular little monastery of quiet introspection and contemplative meditation. One morning, at breakfast, Launcelot told his fellow-hermits that he’d had a marvelous advision the night before: Guenever, dead.
“Was this a dream, or a holy vision?” asked the Archbishop of Canterbury.
“Holy vision, I’m pretty sure,” said Launcelot. “My usual Guenever-related dreams are extremely different.”
“We’d better go to Almsbury, then, and check it out,” said the Archbishop.
So after breakfast, Launcelot set out together with seven or eight of his nine close friends. Malory says Almsbury was not terribly far, thirty miles, but the hermits lacked horses and were not in fighting shape, so it took them two days to hike it. Frankly I think that thirty miles in two days is pretty good, but what do I know? I’m a coddled American who rarely walks more than three miles in a stretch.
When they arrived in Almsbury, they went immediately to the convent, where Guenever lay in state. She was dead, sure enough. Oddly enough, though, she was only a half-hour dead. When she’d died, a mere thirty minutes prior to Launcelot’s arrival, she’d predicted that he would come for her, and told the nuns to ask Launcelot to bury her with her husband.
In a wash Launcelot realized that it was finally all over, well and truly. He collapsed to his knees, overcome with emotion, but shed no tears.
They bore Guenever’s body back to the hermitage, where they held a nice funeral for her and interred her with Arthur. Launcelot, so stoic before, broke down during the funeral.
“Suck it up, man,” said the Archbishop. “It’s unseemly!”
“No. No, it’s not unseemly. For our love was a special thing, and it’s only right that I mourn her. She and I had a real thing going for a while there. It can’t be wrong of me to mourn her.”
Then Launcelot stopped eating and died. He died very slowly, over weeks. The odd bit here is that, according to Malory, he shrank before he went, and died a foot shorter than he’d been when he lived. Sir Bors and the Archbishop tried to talk him into eating, but they couldn’t bring him around. Instead he asked for a funeral, and was told he’d get a good one.
“Don’t bury me here, with Arthur and Guenever; I don’t deserve it. Bear my body back to Joyous Gard.”
After that final meeting the Archbishop fell asleep. He dreamed a holy vision of his own: Launcelot happy in heaven. Sir Bors rushed in and woke him.
“You were laughing in your sleep! But I have sad news…”
“Launcelot is dead,” said the Archbishop. “Yes, I had a vision.”
And it’s true! He was dead.
So the Archbishop and the hermit-knights broke out their funeral wagon, last used to transport Guenever’s body. They loaded Launcelot onto it, and took the Knight of the Cart on one last cart-ride, across the land to his old home, Joyous Gard, by then a cold and empty place. They held a large funeral for him, in the courtyard outside Joyous Gard, with bonfires and lots of peasants came to gawk at the dead body.
In the middle of the funeral, up rode Sir Ector the Lesser! He didn’t recognize any of his old friends, because he hadn’t seen them for seven years and they were all in robes with beards. They recognized him, though, and were extremely sheepish that they had completely forgotten about him.
“Seven years I’ve been looking for you guys! You all went off to be monks together and you didn’t tell me?!”
The hermit-knights were pretty abashed about it. They invited Ector to join their order, since with Launcelot dead they had an empty bunk at the hermitage. At this point, says Malory, the story is pretty much over. Launcelot dead, Guenever dead, oh and of course Arthur dead. The hermit-knights went back to the hermitage, or whatever, and they dwelled there. After a time Sir Constantine (who became the King of Logris-England-Britain after Arthur, mainly by keeping his head down until everyone else who wanted it was dead; that’s how you win the game of thrones) recalled the Archbishop of Canterbury to quit being a hermit and get back to the important work of Archbishoping. Maybe the hermit-knights went their separate ways at that point, with only Sir Bedivere remaining at the hermitage. Maybe Bors, Ector, and the rest got involved in the Crusades or something. Malory doesn’t know, and he doesn’t particularly care.
The book ends with a polite request from Sir Thomas Malory for you, the reader, to do him a solid and pray for him. If he’s alive, pray for him, and if he’s been dead for centuries and you’re reading a retelling of his novel on an electronic device of some kind, pray for his soul in Purgatory.
Thus endeth this noble and joyous book entitled the Death of Arthur. Notwithstanding it treateth of the birth, life, and acts of the said King Arthur, of his noble knights of the Round Table, their marvellous enquests and adventures, the achieving of the Grail, and in the end the dolorous death and departing out of this world of them all.
Mic drop, Malory out!