Malory’s description at this point makes me almost wonder if he has some kind of preference between Sir Gawaine and Sir Launcelot, like, he thinks one of them was a generally awful person and the other was the best knight ever who totally deserved to sleep with Guenever.
Anyway. Launcelot monologued his response: “Alas most noble Christian realm, whom I have loved above all other realms, and in thee I have gotten a great part of my worship, and now I shall depart in this wise. Truly me repenteth that ever I came in this realm, that should be thus shamefully banished, undeserved and causeless; but fortune is so variant, and the wheel so moveable, there nis none constant abiding, and that may be proved by many old chronicles, of noble Ector, and Troilus, and Alisander the Mighty Conquerer, and many mo other; when they were most in their royalty, they alighted lowest. And so fareth it by me, for in this realm I had worship, and by me and mine all the whole Round Table hath been increased more in worship by me and mine blood, than by any other. And therefore wit thou well, Sir Gawaine, I may live upon my lands as well as any knight that here it. And if ye, most redoubted king, will come upon my lands with Sir Gawaine to war upon me, I must endure you as well as I may. But as to you, Sir Gawaine, that if ye come there, I pray you charge me not with treason nor felony, for an ye do, I must answer you.”
Gawaine shook awake when he realized Launcelot had stopped talking. “I’m sorry, what? I wasn’t listening.”
Launcelot quaked with rage as he listed off his main points. “I’m leaving England. I’m sorry I ever came here. You guys are jerks and your Round Table would have collapsed a long time ago without me holding it up. I’m going home to Benwick. If you guys decide to invade Benwick, you’ll be met with an army. Also, Sir Gawaine, you in particular are an ass.”
Gawaine scoffed. “Yeah, go running home to Benwick! Better lay in supplies, because it’s going to be a long siege!”
“No siege,” said Launcelot. “You invade, I meet you in the field and crush you.”
“Shut up and hand over Guenever,” was the whole of Gawaine’s response.
Guenever had been standing there this whole time, listening to Launcelot and Gawaine bicker. She cleared her throat to speak, but then Launcelot turned to her.
“Madam, now I must depart from you and this noble fellowship for ever; and sithin it is so, I beseech you to pray for me, and say me well; and if ye be hard bestead by any false tongues, lightly lady send me word, and if any knight’s hands may deliver you by battle, I shall deliver you.“
Everyone in Camelot, king, duke, baron, earl, knight, lady, gentlewoman, everybody broke down sobbing as Sir Launcelot, the best night ever, left, never to return. It was a tremendously dramatic moment, Malory assures us. Violins swelling, cameras spinning, and Sir Gawaine the only holdout on the waterworks.
As you might expect, the whole of the Benwick faction left with him. Not just Launcelot’s relatives, Sir Lionel and Sir Ector the Lesser and Sir Bors and so on, but also Sir Palomides, Sir Safere, Sir Lavaine, Sir Urre, with many others. When they arrived in Benwick (which Malory now says in either Bayonne or Burgundy, I guess because they both start with a B) Launcelot put together a huge parliament, where he set up a new feudal system displacing the one Arthur set up at the end of Book V. Which I am pretty sure is a de facto declaration of civil war.
And now, another list! Launcelot’s new feudal arrangement!
SUPER KING OF EVERYTHING: Launcelot
King of Benwick: Ector the Lesser (also overking of Lionel and Bors)
King of France: Lionel
King of King Claudas’s lands: Bors
Duke of Limosin: Sir Blamore
Duke of Poictiers: Sir Bleoberis
Duke of Querne: Sir Gahalantine
Duke of Sentonge: Sir Galihodin
Earl of Perigot: Sir Plenorius
Earl of Masauke: Sir Selises
Earl of Tursauk: Sir Melias de Lile
Duke of Landok: Sir Safere
Earl of Agente: Sir Clegis
Earl of Surlat: Sir Sadok
Duke of Anjou: Sir Dinas, Mark’s former seneschal
Duke of Normandy: Sir Clarrus
Earl of “the Lands:” Sir Bellangere le Beuse
Duke of “the Province:” Sir Palomides
And many more that meseemeth it were too long to rehearse.
Meanwhile Arthur and Gawaine mobilized all of England to invade Benwick. It was sixty thousand troops, the largest army we’ve seen in a while, on par with Arthur’s invasion force in Book V or the armies he and Team Lot & Mister 100 battled with back in Book I.
Arthur and Gawaine were heading to Benwick, so he turned over temporary Acting King status to Sir Mordred, his illegitimate son and also nephew. Guenever, Malory notes, was included in the list of things that Arthur put Mordred in charge of. As per usual, she got no say in the matter.
When Arthur’s army landed in Benwick, they started lighting things on fire, the way the Romans did, again in Book V. We join Launcelot’s brain trust in an emergency cabinet session, already in progress.
“So in conclusion, we need to sally forth and do battle with them in the field, for all the reasons I just laid out.” Sir Bors wrapped up his presentation and looked for support.
“I don’t know,” said Sir Lionel. “We’ve got some strong walled towns and all we really need to do is wait until winter, when Arthur’s men will starve. Or at least they’ll be weak and demoralized and we can fight them then.”
King Bagdemagus thought this was a terrible plan. “We hole up in our little hidey-holes, everybody’s going to think we’re hole-dwelling cowards!”
“Wait,” said Bors. “Didn’t Sir Gawaine kill you sometime before Book XVII, Bagdemagus?”
“There’s no time to sort that out,” said Sir Galihud, which I think is his first line ever. “This is a crisis! I beg you, Launcelot, let me take out the seven best knights from North Wales, my friends who don’t have names only because they’ve been involved in their own wholly separate strange adventures this whole time, let me take them out and smash Arthur’s army!”
Launcelot listened to all their ideas, and then announced what the plan was going to be. “Peace is better than war, and I well remember tales of my father and uncle’s campaigns against King Claudas, and how they ravaged this land. I’m going to send Peter the dwarf with a damosel and a message to Arthur, and perhaps we can still make peace.”