Meanwhile Arthur and Gawaine mobilize all of England to invade Benwick. It’s sixty thousand troops, which is the largest army we’ve seen in a while, on par with Arthur’s invasion force in Book V or the armies he and Team Lot & Mister 100 battled with back in Book I.
Arthur and Gawaine are heading to Benwick, so he turns over temporary Acting King status to Sir Mordred, his illegitimate son and also nephew. Guenever, Malory notes, is included in the list of things that Arthur puts Mordred in charge of. As per usual, she gets no say.
When Arthur’s army lands in Benwick, they start lighting things on fire, the way the Romans did, again in Book V. We join Launcelot’s brain trust in an emergency cabinet session, already in progress.
“So in conclusion, we need to sally forth and do battle with them in the field, for all the reasons I just laid out.” Sir Bors wraps up his presentation and looks for support.
“I don’t know,” says Sir Lionel. “We’ve got some strong walled towns and all we really need to do is wait until winter, when Arthur’s men will starve. Or at least they’ll be weak and demoralized and we can fight them then.”
King Bagdemagus thinks this is a terrible plan. “We hole up in our little hidey-holes, everybody’s going to think we’re hole-dwelling cowards!”
“Wait,” says Bors. “Didn’t Sir Gawaine kill you sometime before Book XVII, Bagdemagus?”
“There’s no time to sort that out,” says Sir Galihud. “This is a crisis! I beg you, Launcelot, let me take out the seven best knights from North Wales, my friends who don’t have names only because they’ve been involved in their own wholly separate strange adventures this whole time, let me take them out and smash Arthur’s army!”
Launcelot listens to all their ideas, and then announces what the plan is. “Peace is better than war, and I well remember tales of my father and uncle’s campaigns against King Claudas, and how they ravaged this land. I’m going to send Peter the dwarf with a damosel and a message to Arthur, and perhaps we can still make peace.”
CUT TO Peter teleporting into Arthur’s camp. He and the damosel are immediately accosted by Sir Lucan the Caterer, one of the very few named knights who neither joined Launcelot nor were slain by him. Lucan quickly ushers them into Arthur’s presence, warning them that Sir Gawaine is also there.
Inside Arthur’s tent, Arthur and Gawaine listen as Peter and the damosel lay out Launcelot’s peace offer. Malory is nonspecific but apparently it’s a pretty solid offer! Presumably Launcelot apologizes for breaking half of Arthur’s empire off and turning it into the Kingdom of Launcelot, and offers to start paying taxes again. Anyway, Arthur is inclined to take it.
“Oh, come on, Uncle Sire!” cries Gawaine. “We came all this way! Turn around now and we look like dicks! I mean, you’re the king, but still. Give me a break, that’s what I’m saying.”
Arthur flip-flops and decides Gawaine is right. “For various reasons,” he tells the damosel, “I’ve decided to assign the task of answering Launcelot’s peace offer to my nephew here.”
Sir Gawaine’s response can be summed up as “and the horse you rode in on.”
The damosel returns to Launcelot (Peter, for whatever reason, decides to stay in Arthur’s camp, apparently). All his knights cheer when they learn about Gawaine’s rejection of the peace deal! Huzzah! War! Hooray for war!
“I don’t know why you guys are so fired up about fighting our longtime friends and former liege lord,” grumbles Launcelot. “But if that’s what we’re doing, then everybody needs to get a good night’s sleep.”