Another year, another May, another season of romance and whimsy! Book XX opens with the stark contrast between all the happy lovers in Camelot (chief among them Guenever and Launcelot) and the two villains of our piece, Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred. These two, Gawaine’s brothers, spent all their free time sulking, overcome with a privy hate to the queen Dame Guenever and to Sir Launcelot. And, of course, it wasn’t as if Guenever and Launcelot were particularly quiet about their romance. By this point they had been together, off and on, for somewhere between twenty-five and sixty years; you’re bound to get sloppy.
One day Gawaine and all his brothers, the Orkney faction, met up for one of their informal complain-about-Launcelot get-togethers, and Sir Agravaine led off. “I marvel that we all be not ashamed both to see and to know how Sir Launcelot lieth daily and nightly by the queen, and we all know it so, and it is shamefully suffered of us all, that we all should suffer so noble a king as King Arthur is so to be shamed. Why don’t we just tell Arthur and get Launcelot executed and be done with it?”
Sir Gawaine, the elder statesman of the faction (he’s been around since Book III) rapped on the table in front of him. “Everybody listen to me! That’s a bad idea!”
Gaheris and Gareth, the good brothers Malory doesn’t hold in special contempt, exchanged glances. “Yeah,” one of them said, and the other nodded.
“I think it’s the best idea anyone’s ever had!” cried Mordred.
“You would,” Gawaine said, narrowing his eyes at Mordred. “Bad idea, I said.”
“All right then,” said Agravaine. “It sounds to me like there’s a consensus in favor of telling Arthur.”
But Gawaine protested, and explained why. For thing, he didn’t like the Orkney faction’s odds against the Benwick faction, if it would come to that. “You just know Bors and all Launcelot’s relations would line up on his side. Also, Launcelot’s rescued everybody here at least once, and Arthur, and Guenever too I don’t even know how many times. He saved me from Carados and killed him back between Book V and Book VI, even though Carados was on the list of Knights of the Round Table in Book XIX. He saved you, Agravaine, and you, Mordred, from Sir Tarquin, back in Book VI. The man deserves the benefit of the doubt.”
“Maybe, but he’s had literally decades of it,” retorted Agravaine. “I’m sick of letting him keep on and on and on with his infidelity!”
At this point in the meeting King Arthur stuck his head in. “Hey, nephews! I was just passing by the chamber and happened to hear raised voices. What’s the concern?”
“Shut it,” warned Gawaine, but Agravaine and Mordred ignored him.
“There’s something we need to tell you, Uncle Sire,” said Agravaine.
“Yes indeed, Secret Father,” said Mordred.
Gareth and Gaheris exchanged glances again, and, shaking their heads, they rose to their feet and left the room. Gawaine followed after them, scowling.
Arthur watched them go, confused. “What’s all this about?”
When Agravaine and Mordred told Arthur that Launcelot had been sleeping with Guenever for decades, the old king sat down heavily.
“Do you have any evidence?” he asked.
“Evidence?” Agravaine was puzzled. “What, suddenly the burden of proof is on the accuser? What about the trial system presented in the previous book?”
“Sir Launcelot, as you may have never noticed because you’re plainly an idiot,” said Arthur, “is the best knight. Let’s imagine the best-case scenario. You walk up to Launcelot and say, ‘Oi! Launcelot! Oi’m haccusin’ yew of hadulteries, Oi ham.'”
“Is that supposed to be an Orkney accent?”
“And then Launcelot, what, he goes quietly? No. He slices your fool head off, is what he does, and then he claims that no one has any proof and he can defeat whatever judicial champion anyone cares to offer. No dice.”
“So what,” demanded Mordred, “Launcelot can just get away with whatever? Guenever can just get away with whatever? Arthur’s court has no rule of law?”
Arthur stared into space for a good long while.
“You’d have to catch him in the act,” he said, finally. “Several of you, because he could defeat any one knight easily.”
“I’ve been thinking about this, Uncle Sire, and I have a plan!” Agravaine clapped his hands together. “Here’s what we do is, you go away from Camelot on an overnight trip, hunting. And then me, and Mordred here, and another twelve knights will lie in wait outside Guenever’s room, and we’ll burst in on them right when they’re, you know, doing it!”
“That sounds like a terrible idea, but what other choice do I have?”
Agravaine and Mordred reassured Arthur that it would all be okay. “Don’t worry!” “We can handle this!” “Let us deal!“
Cut to the night in question. Agravaine and Mordred recruited a bunch of cannon fodder knights: Sir Colgrevance who was already dead; plus Sir Mador de la Porte who had a grudge against Launcelot anyway, Sir Meliot, Sir Petipase, Sir Galleron, Sir Melion, Sir Astamore, Sir Grummore, Sir Curselaine, and Gawaine’s sons Sir Gingalin, Sir Florence, and Sir Lovel. Fourteen knights, all of whom were Gawaine’s relatives, members of the Orkney faction, self-proclaimed rivals or enemies of Launcelot, or all of the above.
Over in the Benwick faction’s chambers, Launcelot and Bors were just hanging out. “Well, it’s getting late,” said Launcelot. “Guess I’ll go sleep with Guenever now.”
Bors blinked. “Hmm.”
“Launcelot, you know how I found the Holy Grail?”
“And how I have the occasional preternatural flash of insight?”
“Launcelot, take it from me: don’t visit the queen tonight.”
Launcelot scoffed, though, because what, was he supposed to be afraid to visit Guenever? That’d be silly! He’d be fine, he was sure.