Another year, another May, another season of romance and whimsy! Book XX opens with the stark contrast between all the happy lovers in Camelot (chief among them Guenever and Launcelot) and the two villains of our piece, Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred. These two, Gawaine’s brothers, spend all their free time sulking, overcome with a privy hate to the queen Dame Guenever and to Sir Launcelot. And, of course, it’s not as if Guenever and Launcelot are being particularly quiet about their romance. They’ve been together, off and on, for something like forty, fifty, maybe sixty years, and you’re bound to get sloppy.
One day Gawaine and all his brothers, the Orkney faction, meet up for one of their informal complain-about-Launcelot get-togethers, and Sir Agravaine leads off. “I marvel that we all be not ashamed both to see and to know how Sir Launcelot lieth daily and nightly by the queen, and we all know it so, and it is shamefully suffered of us all, that we all should suffer so noble a king as King Arthur is so to be shamed. Why don’t we just tell Arthur and get Launcelot executed and be done with it?”
Sir Gawaine, the elder statesman of the faction (he’s been around since Book III) raps on the table in front of him. “Everybody listen to me! That’s a bad idea!”
Gaheris and Gareth, the good brothers Malory doesn’t hold in special contempt, exchanges glances. “Yeah,” one of them says, and the other nods.
“I think it’s the best idea anyone’s ever had!” cries Mordred.
“You would,” Gawaine says, narrowing his eyes at Mordred. “Bad idea, I said.”
“All right then,” says Agravaine. “It sounds to me like there’s a consensus in favor of telling Arthur.”
Gawaine protests! For thing, he doesn’t like the Orkney faction’s odds against the Benwick faction, if it came to that. “You just know Bors and all Launcelot’s relations would line up on his side. Also, Launcelot’s rescued everybody here at least once, and Arthur, and Guenever too I don’t even know how many times. He saved me from Carados and killed him back between Book V and Book VI, even though Carados was on the list of Knights of the Round Table in Book XIX. He saved you, Agravaine, and you, Mordred, from Sir Tarquin, back in Book VI. The man deserves the benefit of the doubt.”
“Maybe, but he’s had literally decades of it,” retorts Agravaine. “I’m sick of letting him keep on and on and on with his infidelity!”
At this point in the meeting King Arthur sticks his head in. “Hey, nephews! I was just passing by the chamber and happened to hear raised voices. What’s the concern?”
“Shut it,” warns Gawaine, but Agravaine and Mordred ignore him.
“There’s something we need to tell you, Uncle Sire,” says Agravaine.
“Yes indeed, Uncle-Father,” says Mordred.
Gareth and Gaheris exchange glances again, and, shaking their heads, they rise to their feet and leave the room. Gawaine follows after them, scowling.
“What’s all this about?” Arthur asks Agravaine and Mordred.