Caesar Lucius hears about the events of the previous chapter, about how his attempt to rescue a column of prisoners backfired when ten thousand of Arthur’s troops (counting everyone they could pull together at the last minute) defeated 20% of Lucius’s entire expeditionary force. Several of his advisors suggest that it’s not too late to just go back home to Rome and forget about this whole “collecting taxes from Arthurian England” business, but Lucius decides to double down. “It’s your shameful talk of retreat and surrender that are the true tragedy this day, not the pointless deaths of thousands and thousands of my soldiers!” I’d like to say Malory is drawing a paralel between Lucius’s attitude, and Launcelot’s in the previous chapter, but I doubt it was intentional.
Lucius fires his advisors and gets a new guy, Sir Leomie, and they concoct a remarkably ill-conceived battle strategy. Arthur hears about it, through an espionage operation so compelling Malory barely admits it exists, and he mounts a counterstrategy.
See, Leomie and Lucius sally forth into the vale of Sessoine, to destroy Arthur’s host, and they discover that Arthur’s host has already spread out and taken defensive positions in a ring around the vale, and Arthur himself is up front, looking all steely.
“No, we are not surrendering!” Lucius cries, before Leomie or anyone else can suggest it. “We’re Romans, for Christ’s sake! We can stomp these idiot Britons! Roma is the head of the universal world! Roma! Roma! Blow the horns!”
So the Roman buglers bugle a charge, and blah blah blah there’s an enormous battle.
1) Arthur kills a giant. First he cuts off the giant’s legs just above the knee, then he quips about how the giant has been cut down to size, and then Arthur beheads him.
2) All the knights of the Round Table (Gawaine included, Malory assures us; he specifically calls out Gawaine) fight valiantly and kill generals and so on.
3) Eventually Arthur manages to get to Lucius and kill him and that’s pretty much it, fight over.
The Romans throw down their weapons and flee, but apparently the Knights of the Round Table aren’t taking any prisoners today, because they run the fleeing soldiers down and kill them. All told about half of what Lucius still had going into the battle are slain, and the other hundred thousand run all the way back to Italy. Arthur has all the dead bodies treated systematically: looted, mass grave. Looted, mass grave. Looted, mass grave. The troops on his side get nice funerals, and all the wounded get piles of leeches and salves and surgery and so on.
While searching the battlefield, Arthur finds alongside Lucius’s dead body the following corpses: seventeen pagan kings, two Christian kings, the Sultan of Syria, and sixty Roman senators. He has all these bodies packed up in lead casks, and finds some surviving senators, and tells them to take the bodies back to Rome.
“Take these to, I don’t know, whoever’s in charge now that Lucius is dead. Take these bodies to him, and you tell him, I’m going to head on down to Rome from here. If the head honcho wants to try to collect taxes from me once I’m there, okay, tell him I’m sending these bodies along as my payment, and I’ll be expecting some change, and we can dicker out whether he owes me or I owe him, we can dicker that out once we’re there.
“This tax payment should cover me, all of England, Ireland, Germany, France, hell, toss in Benwick, too. The whole kit and kaboodle, all tax payments we ever need to make to Rome for the rest of history, capiche?”
The senators gulp and nod and organize a wagon train and take all the corpses back to Rome, where they explain everything to the Senate.
“I think we’re best off disregarding Arthur’s tax situation, just writing it off and closing that account,” is their advice to the Senate.