The next big jousting tournament in the rotation is the Candlemas tournament, around New Year’s. Everybody plans to attend, Launcelot included.
Guenever, with whom he’s made up by now, calls him into her chambers one evening. “Listen,” she says. “I know you’ve always said you won’t bear any lady’s favor into the tournament with you, but you’ve broken that rule once, for Elaine. Won’t you do the same for me?” She shows him a golden sleeve she’s had made special. “You always go incognito anyway. Disguise yourself, wear my favor, and join whichever side is the underdog, which is to say, the side that my husband isn’t on.”
“I’ll do it!” Launcelot sees no reason not to, after all.
Later he tells Bors that he’s going to be sitting this tournament out. Instead he’s going to go spend the holidays with Sir Brastias, the hermit who put him up back at the start of this Book. Launcelot and Lavaine ride out early. Launcelot’s plan: visit Sir Brastias as promised, get a good rest, and then arrive at the tournament incognito after one week, instead of going back to Camelot after two.
So it’s Christmas, and naturally Launcelot is taking a nap, out in the woods near Sir Brastias’s hermitage. Enter Diana! We’ll call her Diana; Malory doesn’t give her a name, which is a shame because she’s pretty interesting. Diana is basically what if Robin Hood were a girl and all the Merry Men were Merry Women?
Got that? It’s pretty straightforward. So Diana is out hunting with her hounds, chasing a deer. By chance the deer comes to Launcelot’s napping-place, and what with one thing and another Diana shoots Launcelot in the butt — seriously, in the thick of the buttock. The arrow goes in deep, and Launcelot naturally wakes up and screams! The deer skips away! Launcelot looks around, sees no deer, sees just a woman with a bow and himself with an arrow sticking out of his ass.
“What the hell, lady?”
Unfortunately Malory isn’t interested in developing Diana as a character. “Sorry,” she says, and leaves, never to be seen again. Launcelot limps back to Sir Brastias’s hermitage, where Lavaine and Brastias get the arrow out of his butt.
“Who shot you?” is naturally the question on their lips.
“I don’t want to talk about it!” is Launcelot’s only reply. Apparently getting shot in his sleep by Lady Robin Hood is embarrassing!
Despite his butt injury, Launcelot refuses to sit out the big tournament. He and Lavaine carry out Launcelot’s plan of showing up late, incognito, and on Mister 100’s side. Due to Sir Bors having superpowers, he recognizes Launcelot through his disguise, and warns his brothers and cousins not to tangle with him. Bors also warns Sir Gareth, who is a good egg despite being one of Sir Gawaine’s brothers.
Launcelot beats up thirty or so knights, at the tournament. Eventually Arthur, noticing that one of Mister 100’s knights appears to be head and shoulders better than all the others, gets together a bunch of named characters — Gawaine, Mordred, Kay, Griftlet, Lucan, Bedivere (who is also there and gets beaten up pretty badly; the circle is now complete), Palomides, and Safere. Arthur leads them into battle, intending to surround and bring down Launcelot. Bors sees this happening, and he and Gareth end up riding to Launcelot’s aid, because they don’t want anybody getting killed.
It’s a whole long scene nobody cares about.
Afterwards Gawaine complains to Arthur that the knight with the golden sleeve had to have been Launcelot, and why were Bors and the others fighting on the wrong side, and on and on, and Kay tells him to shut up.
“Yeah, Gawaine,” says Arthur. “I’m sure you’re right, but come on. It’s just a tournament.” Arthur, King of England, then gives a little speech about, basically, the importance of good sportsmanship and how it’s essential to the flower of chivalry. He sums up with “and always a good man will do ever to another man as he would be done to himself.“
The end! The moral is, don’t be like Sir Gawaine.
Actually, before Book XVIII ends, Malory takes a moment to tell us that May is the best time of year for romance, and that one should love God first and one’s spouse/significant other/lover second, and that for all her faults Queen Guenever really did love Launcelot. Because that’s how they loved in olden times: well! Not like these decadent days of 146X. So I suppose that’s the moral.