Spring turns into summer and summer into late summer, says Malory. And one day roundabout the end of August, Arthur decides to hold a big jousting tournament, because there hasn’t been one since Book XIII. He calls in the King of Scotland, and the King of Northumberland, and the King of Northgalis, and the lovely Isoud’s father King Anguish of Ireland, and Mister 100, and even Galahad the haut prince, which is to say the Galahad that Sir Tristram met back in Book VIII, Chapter 23, not Launcelot’s son.
Guenever has zero interest in attending this big jousting tournament; she claims to have the flu. This annoys Arthur, who reminds her that there hasn’t been a big tournament like this since Book XIII and if Guenever doesn’t come along then the whole thing will be kind of ruined.
Most of the wags in Camelot figure that the reason Guenever doesn’t want to go to this tournament is because Launcelot won’t be participating. He and Sir Mador are both on the injury list, after their joust last chapter. Launcelot, like Guenever, politely declines when Arthur offers him a seat in the royal booth.
So Arthur goes off to the tournament alone, leaving Guenever and Launcelot back in Camelot. As soon as he’s gone, Guenever summons Launcelot! But not for sex, as you might expect. Instead she bawls Launcelot out! He’s going to ruin everything, she says! Arthur gone, Launcelot and Guenever at Camelot together: what are people going to say? She commands him to go to the jousting tournament, for appearances.
“You’re probably right,” says Launcelot. “Last time I ignored your instructions, we had a big fight and you nearly got burned at the stake. So fine. I guess. I don’t care. I’ll get up early tomorrow morning and ride to the tournament. But wit you well, that at the jousts I will be against the king, and against all his fellowship. If I’m going to root for somebody, I’ve got to root for the underdog. That’s just the kind of knight I am!”
“Whatever,” says Guenever.
The next morning, after sex and Mass and breakfast, not necessarily in that order, Launcelot [takes] his leave of the queen and [departs]. He catches up to Arthur’s convoy partway to the tournament, in a little town called Astolat, where he stays with Sir Bernard. Arthur’s staying there, too; he’s spending a couple extra days in Astolat so that all of his knights can gather and they’ll all arrive at the tournament together.
Launcelot doesn’t announce himself to Arthur or the other Knights of the Round Table, because he’s doing that thing where he acts all incognitio? But Arthur recognizes him, and smiles a smug little smile because he figures Launcelot will show up in disguise and win the tournament and it’ll be a good show.
Meanwhile Sir Bernard is happy to put Launcelot up overnight. Bernard introduces Launcelot to his sons, Sir Tirre and Sir Lavaine, a couple of youngsters who have just recently been knighted. Tirre had an accident the same day as his knighting, hurt himself, won’t be going to the tournament. Sir Lavaine will be going, though, and would appreciate Sir Launcelot’s escort. Launcelot is fine with this; he figures he can take Tirre’s shield and go around in Lavaine’s company and everyone will assume he’s Tirre.
Bernard has a third child, a daughter named Elaine le Blank, also known as the Fair Maiden of Astolat. Elaine, perhaps because her name is Elaine, takes one look at Launcelot and is immediately smitten.
“Be my champion at the tournament?” she begs him. “Take my sleeve and wear it and be my champion?”
“Sure, why not,” says Launcelot. “Nothing matters any more. Grail’s done, Guenever’s… anyway, sure.” Plus, Launcelot thinks, everyone knows that Sir Launcelot never ever ever wears a lady’s favor during jousting tournaments. So if he wears Elaine’s sleeve, boom, no way anyone will recognize him as Launcelot.
Then, I don’t know, probably third base? Elaine, because she’s gaga for Launcelot, and Launcelot, because he’s become bitter husk of a man and a parody of his former self.