Now that it’s been about two books since Malory’s favorite knight appeared, and one book since he first showed up as a knight, now Malory decides it’s time to start talking Launcelot, or to be more accurate, L A U N C E L O T ! ! ! ! ! .
I told you already once: Malory loves him some Launcelot. He starts this Book off explaining how, in the Arthurian epoch following Arthur’s conquest of Rome, the Knights of the Round Table fought at tournaments like crazy tournament fighters, jousting and contesting and caber-tossing and arm-wrestling and bar trivia and 5v5 Team Fortress 2 LAN tournaments. Some knights won a lot, some knights won a little. Some earls and dukes won less than some low-end knights; nobility of birth failed to act as a predictor for skill at arms. And the greatest of the knights was, of course, Sir Launcelot du Lake, the Man from Benwick.
Launcelot never lost, ever. Sometimes it seemed like he lost, but then it turned out he’d really won, by some secret method where it only looked like he lost. Sometimes he seemed to lose, but it was because the other side was cheating or using magic. Launcelot’s just the greatest, okay? He’s the best. Now, we’re a fair ways into Le Morte D’Arthur at this point; we’re about twenty percent of the way through the pagecount of my edition, and a lot of the middle is jousting we’re going to skim past. We’ve already met a bunch of badass knights, dudes who are just incredibly good at killing people. You remember them: Mister 100 with his One Hundred Knights, One Hundred Blows secret technique, Balin with his Lady-Slaying Stab, Gawaine with his Petulant Crybaby Sneak Attack Massive Skull-Crushing Smash, Pellas with his Married to Nimue fatality move, Pellinore with his King of the Assholes Style and Arthur with his Rightful Ruler of England Prana. Plus there was that time Sir Kay just totes killed two knights, and so on. Launcelot is better than any of them, you guys. He always wins. Launcelot is the best. He’s so dreamy!
Guenever thinks so! Launcelot is Guenever’s favorite, of all the knights in Arthur’s court, and she’s all the time sending him kerchiefs and mittens and buying him socks, and he’s reciprocating with poetry and announcing that he’s dedicating his next victory to her, and killing giants in her name, and saving her from fire, all that good stuff.
Anyway. This is the status quo for a fair chunk of time, and then Launcelot’s eldest sibling’s eldest son, Lionel, comes to Arthur’s court to become a knight. At least that’s how I’m reading this. It’s tricky. The exact lineage of Lionel is unclear, but he’s Launcelot’s nephew and the two of them are fairly close together in age. Maybe this is the same Sir Lionel from Book V.
“Brother!” cries Sir Launcelot, further muddying their relationship. “Make ready, for we two will seek strange adventures!”
Malory doesn’t explain Launcelot’s motivation for making this offer. Spoiler: he spends the bulk of this Book riding around alone actively avoiding any team-ups with other knights. Why he invites Lionel along in the first place is unclear. Malory also fails to record Lionel’s response, but I imagine it’s enthusiastic.
So Launcelot and Lionel stay up all night praying and making plans and loading up their horses, and bright and early they set out from Camelot, riding across some stock footage of a forest and a castle and so on. Roundabout noon they’re in terrain that resembles Nebraska.
“Man, I’m tired for some reason,” says Launcelot. “Wouldn’t mind taking a break and getting some napping in.”
“I’m young and eager,” asserts Lionel. “But look, there’s an apple tree over there. It’s shady; you and the horses can rest while I keep watch.”
“Great,” says Launcelot. “I’m as tired as I’ve been any time in the last eight years.” So perhaps it’s been eight years since Launcelot’s first arrival to Camelot? This is just me speculating based on the dialogue.
Regardless, Launcelot and Lionel ride over to the apple tree, and they dismount, and Launcelot takes his helmet off to use it as a pillow and lies down and falls asleep, in his armor, pretty much instantly.
While Lionel keeps watch, three knights come riding up, at speed. Lionel can see they’re chased by a fourth knight, who looks to Lionel to be some kind of circus strongman! This fourth knight is a gigantic figure; if he wasn’t decked out in armor and riding a (large) horse, he might be mistaken for a giant. Malory doesn’t mention it until next chapter, but this fellow’s name is Sir Turquine. Lionel watches as Turquine rides down the three fleeing knights, one after the other, unhorsing them with his long spear.
Once they’re on the ground, Turquine circles back and dismounts and starts tying them up, which is what prompts Sir Lionel to get involved.
“Seeing as how this seven foot tall, three hundred odd pounds knight rode down and easily defeated three knights, I’m sure I, as a freshly-minted brand-new knight with essentially no real-world experience, can take him! After all, I’m from Benwick! I’ll just have to be quiet when I do it, so I don’t wake up Launcelot! Roll for initiative, strange knight!”
Most of one combat round later, Lionel and the other three knights are bound hand and foot, thrown over Turquine’s horse, and boom, they’re getting carried back to Castle Turquine. There, they’re stripped naked, beaten, and thrown into a oubliette with a bunch of other knights. Launcelot sleeps through the whole thing.