Spring turned into summer, summer turned into late summer, says Malory. As August crept to its conclusion, King Arthur decided to hold yet another big jousting tournament, because by gum it’s been a while. For this Labor Day Joust-Stravaganza he called in the King of Scotland, the King of Northumberland, the King of Northgalis, King Anguish of Ireland (the lovely Isoud’s father), Mister 100, and even Galahad the haut prince, which is to say the Galahad that Sir Tristram met back in Book VIII, Chapter 23, not Launcelot’s son.
Guenever had zero interest in this tournament, claiming a bad case of flu. Arthur, annoyed, reminded her that the last sizable tournament was all the way back in Book XIII. If Guenever didn’t show then the whole thing would be kind of ruined.
Most of the wags in Camelot figured Guenever didn’t want to go because Launcelot wasn’t scheduled. He and Sir Mador were both on the injury list, after their joust. Launcelot, like Guenever, politely declined when Arthur offered him a seat in the royal booth.
And so Arthur went to the tournament alone, grumbling, leaving Guenever and Launcelot back in Camelot. As soon as Arthur was gone, Guenever summoned Launcelot into her chambers. Not for sex, as you might expect; instead she just bawled Launcelot out. “You’re going to ruin everything!” she said. “Arthur’s gone, you and I at Camelot together: what are people going to say? You absolutely must go to the jousting tournament, for appearance’s sake!”
“You’re probably right,” admitted Launcelot. “Last time I ignored your instructions, we had a big fight and you nearly got burned at the stake. So fine. I guess. I don’t care. I’ll get up early tomorrow morning and ride to the tournament. But wit you well, that at the jousts I will be against the king, and against all his fellowship. If I’m going to root for somebody, I’ve got to root for the underdog. That’s just the kind of knight I am!”
The next morning, after sex and Mass and breakfast, not necessarily in that order, Launcelot took his leave of the queen and departed. He caught up to Arthur’s convoy partway to the tournament, in a little town called Astolat, where he stayed with Sir Bernard. Arthur was staying there, too; he needed to spend a few extra days in Astolat so that all of his knights could gather. Once everyone was grouped up, they would be able to arrive at the tournament together.
Launcelot didn’t announce himself to Arthur or the other Knights of the Round Table, because he was traveling incognito (as was his habit). Nevertheless Arthur recognized him, in the campground out behind Sir Bernard’s manor. Arthur said nothing, but smiled a smug little smile; he figured Launcelot would show up in disguise and win the tournament. Win or lose, it would be a good show, at least.
Sir Bernard, for his part, was quite happy to put Launcelot up overnight. He introduced Launcelot to his two sons, a couple of youngsters only recently knighted. The first son, Sir Tirre, suffered an accident the same day as his knighting, and hurt himself; he wouldn’t be going to the tournament. The second son, Sir Lavaine, planned to attend, and would appreciate Sir Launcelot’s escort. Launcelot thought this was a fine plan: he took up Tirre’s shield, thinking that if he went to the tournament in Lavaine’s company, everyone would assume he was Tirre.
Bernard’s third child, his daughter Elaine le Blank (also known as the Fair Maiden of Astolat) took one look at Launcelot and was immediately smitten. Perhaps this was because her name was Elaine (ELAINE 6!).
“Be my champion at the tournament?” she begged him. “Take my sleeve and wear it and be my champion?”
“Sure, why not?” Launcelot shrugged. “I used to have a strict no-favor-wearing policy, but nothing matters any more. The Grail’s done, Guenever’s… anyway, sure.” Plus, Launcelot knew that everyone knew that Sir Launcelot never ever ever wore a lady’s favor during jousting tournaments. So if he showed up with Elaine’s sleeve, there would be no way anyone could recognize him as Launcelot.
Then, I don’t know, probably third base? Elaine, because she was gaga for Launcelot, and Launcelot, because he’d become a bitter husk of a man and a parody of his former self.
The next morning Arthur and his assembled knights rode forth. Towards the back of the group Sir Launcelot and Sir Lavaine, disguised as Sir Tirre and Sir Lavaine, rode out too. Malory seems to have lost track of the fact that Arthur left Camelot to go to this tournament, because now he says that the tournament takes place in Camelot. We can disregard that, though, on account of it’s nonsensical. Malory also claims that after everyone met for the tournament they waited until Assumption Day to actually hold it. This is also bull hockey, because Malory previously said Arthur scheduled this tournament for two weeks after Assumption Day.
What we can be sure of, though, is that it was a downright huge jousting tournament (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 35!). The knights divided up into two teams: Arthur and Anguish and Scotland on one side, and Northgalis, Northumberland, Galahad-but-not-the-one-you’re-thinking-of, and Mister 100 on the other. Everyone knew these two teams to be a very uneven match; Arthur’s team had all the best knights, while pretty much the only good knight on Mister 100’s team was Mister 100 himself.
In an incredible display of jousting prowess which Malory is far too humble to even attempt to describe (this is not a wholly accurate summary of the situation) Arthur’s knights beat the tar out of Mister 100’s team, until Sir Launcelot joined the fight on Mister 100’s side. Launcelot rampaged, incapacitating a big pile of his supposed comrades, until Sir Bors and the rest of Launcelot’s extended family formed a wedge to take out Sir Tirre (secretly in real life Sir Launcelot). Launcelot lost his horse in the scuffle, but Sir Lavaine got him a new one! In the process Sir Lavaine beat the tar out of Sir Alisander, another flagrant continuity violation inasmuch as Sir Alisander (whose tale is told in an extended flash-forward in Book X) was a child at this point in the timeline.
All in all, Launcelot and Lavaine defeated about forty knights, including many Knights of the Round Table. Launcelot took a licking but came out on top, winning the prize for the day. He refused the prize, however, and rode into the woods instead. Once he (and Lavaine) had safely hidden away in the woods, Launcelot pulled his armor off, revealing a pretty serious wound in the side, so sore that it nigh slayeth him. Launcelot hadn’t fully recovered from his bout with Sir Mador, and he wasn’t a spring chicken any more, either.
Lavaine panicked, because he’d never dealt with an injured man before, but Launcelot talked him through getting the broken spear-point out of Launcelot’s side, and cleaning and dressing the wound. Then Launcelot passed out from blood loss, leaving Lavaine to stand there wringing his hands for about half an hour.
Just when Sir Lavaine had about decided Launcelot is dead, his eyes fluttered open! “Lavaine,” he croaked. “Lavaine, help me on my horse. Sir Baudwin, the physician-knight, lives near here. He was the very first knight aside from Sir Kay and Sir Ector to swear fealty to King Arthur, in Book I. Retired now. Hell of a guy. Two miles. C’mon. We can make it.”
And then with great pain Sir Lavaine helped Launcelot up and onto his horse. They rode a great wallop to Baudwin’s estate, with Launcelot’s blood forming a drizzly trail behind them.
Malory describes Baudwin’s hermitage as pleasantly picturesque: under a wood, and a great cliff on the other side, and a fair water running under it. Lavaine dashed to the gate and pounds on it, shouting for Baudwin.
When Baudwin’s very young son answered the door, Lavaine explained he had a special big-boy job for the kid: fetch his father immediately before Launcelot bled to death. The kid tottered away, creating a moment of dramatic tension. Would he pull it off? Or is this the part of Le Morte D’Arthur where Launcelot dies?
Spoiler alert: Launcelot made it. Baudwin showed up and explained, for the benefit of the audience, that he was indeed the same Sir Baudwin that we met waaaaay back in Book I, the very first knight who saw Arthur take the sword from the stone, and swore fealty. He retired a few years back, and lived as a simple physician-knight-landowner-hermit.
There’s a moment of concern, because Lavaine introduced Launcelot as one of the knights opposed to Arthur at the jousting tournament from the previous chapters. Baudwin, a pro-Arthur partisan of course, expressed reluctance to heal this rogue knight. But he recognized Sir Launcelot, despite all the bleeding, and so that opportunity for drama was likewise squashed.
Baudwin put Launcelot up for a while, and gave him wine, and let him convalesce in Baudwin’s home. Malory goes on a brief screed here about how back in olden times, hermits were nice and good folk and would help a guy out, not like modern times and certain so-called hermits Malory doesn’t credit with the worship and prowess all the Arthurian hermits had. I get the sense that Malory is referring to a grievance with some specific guy here.