CUT TO Peter teleporting into Arthur’s camp. He and the damosel were immediately accosted by Sir Lucan the Caterer, one of the very few named knights who neither joined Launcelot nor were slain by him. Lucan quickly ushered them into Arthur’s presence, warning them that Sir Gawaine was also there.
Inside Arthur’s tent, Arthur and Gawaine listened as Peter and the damosel laid out Launcelot’s peace offer. Malory is nonspecific but apparently it was a pretty solid offer. Presumably Launcelot apologized for breaking half of Arthur’s empire off and turning it into the Kingdom of Launcelot, and offered to start paying taxes again. Anyway, Arthur was inclined to take it.
“Oh, come on, Uncle Sire!” cried Gawaine. “We came all this way! Turn around now and we look like dicks! I mean, you’re the king, but still. Give me a break, that’s what I’m saying.”
Arthur, flip-flopping, and decided Gawaine was right. “For various reasons,” he told the damosel, “I’ve decided to assign the task of answering Launcelot’s peace offer to my nephew here.”
Sir Gawaine’s response could be summed up as “and the horse you rode in on.”
The damosel returned to Launcelot (Peter, for whatever reason, decided to stay in Arthur’s camp, apparently). All his knights cheered when they learned about Gawaine’s rejection of the peace deal! Huzzah! War! Hooray for war!
“I don’t know why you guys are so fired up about fighting our longtime friends and former liege lord,” grumbled Launcelot. “But if that’s what we’re doing, then everybody needs to get a good night’s sleep.”
And so, bright and early one morning, Arthur and his enormous army laid siege to Castle Benwick. Sir Gawaine, pretty much the last knight standing, acted as his general. They encircled the castle and assaulted it with ladders, which Launcelot’s men tossed off. It’s very Helm’s Deep, with Arthur’s army pounding on the castle walls as though to tear them down.
“Come on, Launcelot!” shouted Sir Gawaine in front of the castle gates “Sally forth! Fight me in the field! Stop hiding in your hole!”
“I knew it!” cursed Bagdemagus.
Launcelot declined to joust Gawaine, again, and so it fell to Sir Bors to do the job.
Sir Bors, the best knight, the winner of the Quest for the Holy Grail, emerged from Castle Benwick and charges Gawaine.
In a huge upset and shocker, Sir Gawaine dehorsed him! Bors down!
Sir Lionel couldn’t let that stand! He rode out from Castle Benwick to rescue Sir Bors!
And then Sir Gawaine dehorsed Lionel, too!
Somehow the two wounded knights got back into the castle, but they had to suffer the ignominy of losing to Sir Gawaine, which is pretty bad.
However, they soon had fine company. For the next six months — that’s half a year, people, around a hundred and eighty days — every morning Sir Gawaine would shout a challenge to Launcelot, and every morning a different knight would emerge to defend Launcelot’s honor, and every morning Gawaine would dehorse, wound, and generally humiliate that knight.
Finally one morning, perhaps because Launcelot had started to run low on knights to send, things went differently. As per usual, Gawaine called Launcelot out: “False traitor knight!” and so on. “I shall revenge upon thy body the death of my three brethren.” You get the idea by this point, I’m sure.
All of Launcelot’s surviving knights turned to him. “C’mon,” said one. “He’s being a dick.”
“He deserves to get beaten up!”
“You can totally joust his ass!”
Launcelot really didn’t want to — perhaps because he remembered the Round Table oath Guenever composed. One rule was that knights of the Round Table weren’t supposed to fight one another (except in tournaments), ever. On the other hand, he’d already broken that oath many times over, slaying Agravaine et al.
“You’ve put off jousting him too long!” insisted his followers.
“God help me,” said Launcelot. “It’s time.”
Then Sir Launcelot bade saddle his strongest horse, and bade let fetch his arms, and bring all unto the gate of the tower; and then Sir Launcelot spake on high to King Arthur.
“Arthur! Sire! You have long been my lord and I am very sorry to do this, but you’ve forced my hand. After six months of Sir Gawaine’s prancing around, I’ve got to do something. I’m sorry about how I’m about to kill your nephew!”
Arthur, who had been in a funk since before this war even started, took a ragged breath and sighed. “Alas, that ever Sir Launcelot was against me,” he muttered.
Sir Gawaine was ready for him, though. “Leave thy babbling and come off, and let us ease our hearts!”