Back at the jousting tournament, everything wrapped up smoothly. Arthur met with Mister 100 and the other opposition kings, to divvy up the prizes.
“Obviously the grand prize goes to the mysterious knight with the white shield and the red sleeve he wore for a lady’s favor,” said Arthur. “He was on your side, you must know who I mean.”
Mister 100 and Sir the Other Galahad exchanged glances. “We thought you knew him.”
“Well, crud.” Arthur scowled, because (says Malory) this was literally the worst news he’d received in seven years. It’s just another reminder that Arthur was king during an incredible golden age, an era of no-bad-news not seen before or sense.
“I’ll go looking for him, Uncle Sire!” Gawaine was eager to volunteer for this duty, because he figured the mystery knight couldn’t have gotten far, and when they returned together maybe some of the mystery knight’s glory would rub off onto Gawaine.
And so, while Arthur and the other kings and all the rest of the knights returned home, Gawaine rode around the countryside, specifically the six or seven miles around the tournament grounds. He totally overlooked the trail of blood leading from the tournament to Sir Baudwin’s hermitage. Not a very sharp guy. When he put in one night at Astolat, he bumped into Sir Bernard and his daughter Elaine le Blank. Naturally, they invited him in, for tea and small talk.
“I’m looking for a knight with a white shield and a red sleeve for a lady’s favor,” Gawaine said, eventually. “Last seen in the company of another knight also with a white shield.”
“Oh!” Elaine le Blank recognized Launcelot and Lavaine from that description. “That’s my brother and this dreamy wonderful knight, he was so sexy, he is the man in the world that I first loved, and truly he shall be last that ever I shall love!”
Gawaine grunted. “You know the knight, then?”
“It was my sleeve he wore! I love him so much! Wit ye well he is my love!“
“Great. What’s his name?”
Elaine bit her lip. “….it never came up.”
“Wait, wait. You fell for this knight and you say his name never came up?”
“You can love a man and not know his name. What’s a name? Just a sound, just noise. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet… I know not his name nor from whence he cometh, but to say that I love him, I promise you and God that I love him! That’s why we went to second, no, third base!”
Sir Bernard turned purple, which both Gawaine and Elaine ignored.
“How did you meet him?”
“My brother Lavaine introduced us. He took my heart and my red sleeve and my brother Tirre’s shield, and left me with his shield, to keep as a memento.”
“Ah! His shield! Do you still have it?”
“Yes! It is in my chamber, covered with a case, and if ye will come with me ye shall see it! Let’s go back to my bedroom together, and look at the shield, and see what happens! The last time a knight went to my bedroom with me we ended up having sex.”
Gawaine was all for this plan, but Bernard interceded. “No! No, no, no! Bad daughter!” He waggled his finger at her. “I’ll go fetch this shield. You just wait right here.”
Bernard was halfway out the door of the chamber when he turned around and saw Elaine had already climbed into Gawaine’s lap. “On second thought, let [us] send for it. I’ll wait here with you.”
One of Sir Bernard’s servants fetched the shield, which of course Gawaine recognized instantly as Sir Launcelot’s. While Elaine prattled on about how much she loved her incognito knight, Gawaine tried to reconcile Launcelot’s shield with his knowledge that in the twenty-four years Gawaine has known Launcelot, Launcelot never once wore a lady’s favor. Twenty-four years is the number Malory cites, though my estimation is closer to forty, what with all the “and then so-and-so went off and had a year’s worth of adventures” and “and then his infant son grew up and became a knight and they went on the following adventure together” and “and then at Pentecost they agreed to meet at the next Pentecost…” Malory does.
Gawaine gave Elaine good news and bad news. The good news: her lover was Sir Launcelot! The bad news: he was probably dead and even if he wasn’t, Elaine was almost certainly never going to see him again. Guenever wouldn’t have liked that.
“Nooooo!” cried Elaine, and ran off to search for him. Bernard gave her permission to go, on the grounds that Launcelot had his son Lavaine with him, and maybe Elaine could bring her brother back? And who knows, maybe Launcelot was still alive and Elaine could maybe talk him into marrying her, wouldn’t that be something!
Gawaine meanwhile decided his job was done, and returned to Camelot. “You’ll never believe this!” he told Arthur and Bors and Guenever. “That mystery knight was Launcelot! And he was shacked up with Baudwin’s daughter, and wore her favor!”
Arthur was surprised that Launcelot would wear any lady’s favor.
Bors was heartbroken because he’s the one who stabbed the mystery knight, and if Launcelot died of the wound, Bors would have killed him.
Guenever was pissed. She called Launcelot false and a traitor-knight, and demanded Bors go find him and hurt him. “Fie on him! Yet for all his pride and bobaunce there ye proved yourself his better. I can at least take comfort in the knowledge you’re a better knight than he is, Bors.”
Bors winced. “I don’t know about that… I mean, this is Launcelot we’re talking about… I probably only defeated him because he let me.”
“He slept with Bernard’s daughter!”
“We don’t know that! It was extremely ambiguous! Listen, I’ll go and search for him, and we’ll settle this all out. I won the Quest for the Holy Grail, so Jesus owes me a favor. God send me good tidings of him!“
So Bors used his Grail-granted magic powers to track Launcelot, apparently. Maybe that was just rhetoric, I don’t know. Somehow, Sir Bors arrived at Sir Baudwin’s hermitage, but only after Elaine had already been there for a while.