Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book V Chapter VII
Caesar Lucius has spies scattered throughout France, and he gets word almost immediately that Arthur’s sending his column of prisoners up to Paris with a relatively light guard. So next morning, Cador and Launcelot are leading the column back, and they’re passing through the forest, and Launcelot sends some knights ahead to scout.
They come back, they’re shaking their heads sadly. “You aren’t going to like this,” they say.
“It’s pretty bad.”
“I counted thirty thousand, and Bob here counted thirty thousand so, yeah, sixty thousand.”
Cador lets out a low whistle. “Dang. That’s something like fifty thousand more troops than we can really handle.”
Launcelot snorts “Nonsense! To me, men!” he yells. “To me!”
And Launcelot rides out with everyone he can muster, his troops, some nearby unattached troops, possibly some French peasants, grand total of about ten thousand, which seems implausibly high. But hey, somehow Lucius has been marching around with six times that! Launcelot plus ten thousand versus sixty thousand turns out to not be a very even fight.
Maybe it’s because the Romans don’t have much in the way of significant named characters on their side during this battle, maybe it’s because Launcelot is an atrocious Mary Sue, maybe it’s because someone wrote down “sixty thousand” when they meant to write down “six hundred,” but boom boom boom, the Romans are hip-deep in dead Romans. The King of Lyly, dead! Lord Aladuke, dead! Lord Herawd, dead! Lord Heringdale, oh, you better believe he didn’t make it.
Launcelot is just so noble and manly and awesome that no one can withstand him, and Romans flee rather than fight him, and it’s a grand day for King Arthur’s side. Afterwards Arthur comes out to congratulate his men on their victory, and they form a sort of receiving line, with Arthur going down and shaking hands and getting his picture taken with each one. “You guys are great, great job, you get all the honor. As far as kings go I am super lucky to have you knights, Arthur the Super Lucky King, that’s what they ought to call me, because you fella did great.”
“Thank you, sire,” says Cador. “But to be fair a) Launcelot defeated like fifty thousand guys by himself, and b) we did lose Sir Beryl, Sir Morris, and Sir Maurel. That’s two dead knights who were great men and a terrible loss to our side.”
“Two great men? You listed off three names.”
“So I did.”
“Alas for all this death! Darn it anyway.” Arthur weeps, for the loss of Sir Morris and the loss of Sir Maurel, and also he feels bad for Sir Beryl’s widow, orphans and/or mistresses. “Now you listen, Launcelot, I know you got lucky today, outnumbered six to one and still victorious, but if you’re in a situation like that, feel free to retreat, okay? I’d prefer a live knight who can fight another day to a dead knight I’m forced to venerate as a heroic martyr.”
“Pshaw,” says Launcelot. “You surrender or retreat even once, then boom, you’re a surrenderer or a retreater or both. Once you’ve embarrassed yourself like that you’ll never have a perfect record.”
Discussion Question: You’ve got to admit, “the King of Lyly” is a pretty good knight name, right? Why or why not?
Discussion Question: BURN on Sir Beryl, am I right? Why or why not?
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