And at this point things go down more or less how you’d expect. Launcelot headed over to Guenever’s chambers. Mordred and the other knights hid, then listened at the door. When it sounded like Launcelot and Guenever were in a compromising position, Mordred and Agravaine briefly argued about who was going to do the actual bursting in on them, and decide against anyone risking getting cut down by being the first knight in.
Instead, Mordred pounded on the door and shouted for Launcelot.
Immediately Launcelot and Guenever realized the jig was up. They had a good run, but now it was over.
“Don’t try fighting us!” shouted Agravaine, through the door. “We’re all heavily armored and there’s fourteen of us!”
Launcelot threw himself backwards on the sheets. “This is awful,” he said. “Here I am, bereft of weapons and armor, can’t do anything. Unless…” He looked up at Guenever. “You don’t happen to have another sword lying around, do you? Or armor?”
“You know I don’t!” Guenever fought back sobs. “It’s all over! It’s all over. Whatever will become of us?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you could escape, that would at least be something.” She leaned against his back, resting her head on his shoulder.
Launcelot choked out a protest.
“No, no, you know it’s true. Whether you die or escape here, they won’t hurt me immediately, I’m the Queen. They put me on trial, they schedule the execution, you would swoop in at the last moment and rescue me. You’ve done that twice before. But if you’re dead…”
“I can’t abandon you! And I won’t! And I can’t! I can’t because I don’t have any arms or armor to escape in!”
“Maybe there’s a way around that…”
Eventually, since Launcelot wouldn’t come out, Agravaine and Mordred realized they would have to go in. The door was barred, so the knights outside took turns trying to batter it down. Just as Sir Colgrevance was about to slam his shoulder against the door, Guenever gave Launcelot the high-sign, and Launcelot unbolted and opened the door, such that Colgrevance stumbled forward into the chamber! Then Launcelot slammed the door shut again, before any more knights get in.
Colgrevance, off-balance from falling through the doorframe, rose to his feet and turned, just in time to see Launcelot’s fist bashing Colgrevance’s face in. Colgrevance died not understanding what had happened to him.
“Now, take his sword and his armor and put it on,” instructed Guenever.
Launcelot strapped the dead knight’s armor onto himself. “Listen, if I don’t make it, go to Bors and beg him for protection.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll make it,” said Guenever, and kissed him.
“Well, let’s see if God is on my side,” said Launcelot, and then he unbarred the door.
Long story short: he killed everyone except Mordred, whom he badly wounded and left for dead.
Launcelot ran back to the Benwick faction quarters, where Sir Bors had already woken up all the other knights in their clique and gotten them all in armor.
“Launcelot! You survived!”
“Of course I survived. What’s all this?”
“Blame my mystic visions,” said Bors. “We were about to rescue you.”
“Not necessary,” said Launcelot. He related the harrowing tale of how he killed a bunch of his friends and colleagues mere minutes prior.
“So it’s come to this,” said Bors. “Civil war. Launcelot versus Arthur. Well, we’re with you, Launcelot!”
All the rest of the Benwick faction cheered!
“My friends,” Launcelot told them, “Wit you well, my fair lords, I am sure there nis but war unto me and mine. This is happening, like it or not. And I unavoidably was forced by circumstances to kill Agravaine and a dozen of his comrades, sent by Arthur, so, that’s Arthur and Gawaine both against me. Arthur’s probably going to try to put Guenever to death, so making sure that doesn’t happen is priority number one.”
“No problem,” said Bors. “We’re all in this with you, as I just said. We’ll save Guenever and restore honor to Camelot via some means that I haven’t quite worked out yet!”
“I think rescuing Guenever is the thing to do,” agreed Launcelot. “But I’m open to other ideas. Anyone?”
Then they all said at once with one voice, “Sir, us thinketh best that ye knight rescue the queen, insomuch as she shall be brent it is for your sake; and it is to suppose, and ye might be handled, ye should have the same death, or a more shamefuler death. Besides, you’ve rescued her before.”
Launcelot smiled, heartened by the comrades’ faith in him. “Okay then. After I rescue her, where can I keep her? Tristram and Isoud are still living in my castle Joyous Gard, right? So that’s out.”
“Um, actually…” Bors filled Launcelot in on what we already know because we read Malory’s note about knight 74 on his big list in Book XIX: Tristram’s dead, murdered by King Mark.
“Well hell,” said Launcelot. “That’s just what I’m talking about! Mark murdered Tristram just like Arthur would murder me!”
“Hey now,” said Bors. “Ye know well King Arthur and King Mark were never like of conditions. Mark is a lying little weasel; Arthur is definitionally the best king ever.”
For reference, Malory helpfully lists off the knights of the Benwick faction and close allies.
- Sir Launcelot
- Sir Bors
- Sir Lionel
- Sir Ector the Lesser
- Sir Blamore
- Sir Bleoberis
- Sir Gahalantine
- Sir Galihodin
- Sir Galihud
- Sir Menaduke
- Sir “Valiant” Villiers
- Sir “Famous” Hebes
- Sir Lavaine
- Sir Urre
- Sir Nerovens
- Sir Plenorius
- Sir Harry of Fart Lake
- Sir Selises of the Dolorous Tower
- Sir Melias de Lile
- Sir Bellangere le Beuse
- Sir Palomides
- Sir Safere
- Sir Clegis
- Sir Dinas
- Sir Clarius
Plus, Malory says, they weren’t there at the moment but later when the word of what had happened spread, another fifty-five Cornish and Welsh knights flocked to Launcelot’s banner.
Meanwhile Sir Mordred, whom Launcelot did not kill, limped off to Arthur. He had to go on horseback because, as you may have forgotten, all of this went down while King Arthur was away from Camelot on the pretext of a hunting trip.
Mordred found Arthur and Gawaine, and told them the whole sordid story: not only was Launcelot sleeping with Guenever, but he killed thirteen knights! He rampaged through Camelot!
To say Arthur was despondent at this news is an understatement. He put his head in his hands and murmured about how it was all over now, how the queen must suffer the death, how the noble fellowship of the Round Table is broken forever, and so on.
Gawaine was, for once, a voice of reason! Or at least moderation. “Uncle Sire,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, Launcelot was in Guenever’s chamber for some wholly innocent reason! Maybe my brothers and sons were killed by a terrible misunderstanding! Maybe we can still pull out of this! I mean, this is Launcelot we’re talking about.”
Arthur sighed. “I know. I know Launcelot. There’s no coming back from this. I’m surprised to hear this coming from you, since you’re a dick. Also he killed your brother and two sons of yours, Sir Florence and Sir Lovel.”
“Actually three: Sir Gingalin was my eldest son. Anyway, of all this I have knowledge, of whose death I repent me sore; but insomuch I gave them warning… I mean, c’mon, I hate to say ‘I told you so’ to my three dead sons, but, I told them so. They are the causers of their own death.”
Pretty cold, Gawaine! I guess we all process grief differently.
Arthur commanded Gawaine to get Gaheris and Gareth, and to take Guenever out to the usual stake, and burn her. I got to say, throughout this entire novel, I have been on Arthur’s side. Here, though, here he pretty clearly goes too far. When Gawaine thinks you’re being needlessly orgulous…
Anyway, Gawaine straight-up refused to do it. He told Gaheris and Gareth to refuse, too, but Arthur’s the king and Gawaine was merely the older brother, and while neither of them were happy about it, the two good Orkney knights obeyed the king.
“Alas, that ever I should endure to see this woful day,” said Gawaine, getting in the last word. He went off to sulk, and Arthur went off to cry, and that pretty much sets the tone of the evening.