Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XX Chapters 14 to 16
Somehow the Pope hears about this war and writes a letter commanding Arthur and Launcelot to make up. Malory explains that the Bishop of Rochester acted as the Pope’s messenger on this one, but fails to explain how the news of the Arthur-Launcelot feud made it all the way to Rome, why the Pope particularly cares, or how the Bishop of Rochester gets the note from Rome to Camelot fast enough for it to have an impact on the siege.
Regardless, when Arthur reads his pope-mail and finds an instruction to end the violence and just take Guenever back to Camelot, he’s prepared to accept that.
Sir Gawaine thinks this is bullshit, but he’s still in a wheelchair from the battle last chapter. The Bishop of Rochester, able to come and go from Joyous Gard freely on account of his magical bishop powers, plus canon law, acts as a go-between for the Launcelot-Arthur negotiations.
Launcelot’s ultimately willing to give up Guenever, because stranded in a besieged castle is not a particularly safe space. Thus, he and Arthur declare a cease-fire Arthur goes back to Camelot with all his knights, and a few days later Launcelot and a hundred knights and Guenever and two dozen ladies-in-waiting and a dozen minstrels (Guenever does not travel except in style) ride forth.
Once everyone is assembled in the great hall at Camelot, Launcelot gives a little speech about how he’s here doing this because the Pope asked him. “And for the record, I again formally deny that there has ever been anything untoward about my relationship with Guenever. She is pure and honest and chaste and faithful, and I will joust anyone who suggests otherwise. Liars with a dedicated interest in driving a wedge between Arthur and myself have been spreading scurrilous rumors, but luckily for us all most of them died in the first part of this book.”
“Just to be clear,” Launcelot continues, “I am saying that Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred, who first accused us of an affair, were lying, and were speaking bad faith when they called me traitor and false knight —”
“They called thee right!” Gawaine interrupts. He slams a goblet dramatically to the floor. “You’re a liar and a fraud and you’ve been sleeping with Guenever for years!”
Launcelot stiffens, but keeps his cool. “My lord Sir Gawaine, in their quarrel they proved themselves not in the right. I’m going to refrain from smacking you, because we’ve known one another a long time, and I don’t want to smack old comrades like, say, Sir Lamorak to name a different old colleague selected wholly at random.”
“If their accusations had been correct,” Launcelot continues, “then maybe they and the dozen knights with them wouldn’t have been so much meat for my blade. Guenever called me into her chamber because she saw a spider that needed squishing, or she wanted something from a high shelf, or… that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we definitely weren’t having sex.”
“The king may do as he will,” says Sir Gawaine, “but wit thou well, Sir Launcelot, thou and I shall never be accorded while we live. You killed my brothers and sons, and that I cannot forgive!”
“I’ve been forced to conclude that it was God’s will that I strike them down,” responds Launcelot. “But I do feel bad about killing Sir Gareth. Him I liked. His death, and Sir Gaheris’s death, those are not deaths I’m proud of. Tell you what I’ll do.” Launcelot clears his throat and raises his voice, so that all the assembled knights and ladies can hear him. “I’m going to put on a hair shirt and go down to the first convent I see, and beg the abbess there to assign me some penance. Then one I’ve sung or prayed or fasted or whatever, I’ll go to the next convent down the road, and repeat the process, until I’ve worked my way clear to Sandwich, stopping and being forgiven at every shrine and temple and church and monastery and convent and abbey.”
“Dick. If Arthur lets you back into good graces, I’m resigning my place at the Round Table.”
“Sir!” Launcelot gets all huffy, as though he weren’t being an ass. “If you were to do that, I would be forced to take it as an insult and then we would joust. I have asked your forgiveness and if you fail to grant it, then you’re the one being a dick!”
“Really? Me a dick? You challenging me? You’d just ignore the Pope’s request that we lay down our arms?” Gawaine makes a big show of looking shocked, for the crowd. “But you were just piously setting out a complex and grandstanding penance for yourself!”
Launcelot had forgotten about that part. “Well, then, under the circumstances I think the best thing for me to do would be to return home to Benwick.”
A hush falls over the assembly, because that is a heavy threat apparently.
“I think so too,” says Gawaine. “Two weeks, and you and all your kin are no longer welcome in this land! So says my uncle!”
“Uh…” Arthur has been trying and failing to get a word in edgewise for a while now. “No, you know what?” he finally says. “I’m going to let it stand. Two weeks, then exile.”
Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XX Chapters 14 to 16 — No Comments
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