“Sire!” calls Bedivere, as the magic barge’s gangplank retracts all by itself and Arthur, up on deck, lies down with his head in Morgan’s lap. “Sire! What will happen to me? I’m the last Knight of the Round Table!”
“You’re on your own, Bedivere,” says Arthur. “You and England both. We’re going to Avilion, where I’ll recuperate, and…”
At this point Morgan lets out a very loud sob, which completely drowns out the tail end of Arthur’s sentence. The other ladies aboard the boat — Nimue, the Queen of Northgalis, and the Queen of the Waste Land — likewise sob and cry and carry on, as the barge drifts out to sea and vanishes into the mist.
“Well, hell,” mutters Bedivere, and wanders off.
At this point in the narrative Malory admits to some confusion. There are different stories about what happens here, he says, and this is Malory’s synthesis of several sources. What Malory claims happens is this. Bedivere wanders aimlessly down the beach until he comes to a small chapel and hermitage, where a lone hermit has just finished covering over a grave. This hermit is actually the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom Mordred drove off back in Chapter 1.
“Ahoy, your Grace!” says Bedivere, because he recognizes the archbishop.
“Greetings, sir knight,” says the archbishop, because he’s a classy guy. The archbishop explains that he just finished burying a mysterious dead body that was dropped off by four witches in a magic barge. They gave him a hundred candles and a stack of coins, to pay for the funeral, but they didn’t stay for the ceremony.
“Alas, that was my lord King Arthur, that here lieth buried, then. I saw him with the witches before,” says Bedivere.
“If you say so,” says the archbishop. “You’re welcome to join me as a hermit, by the way.”
“Great!” Bedivere abandons his armor and wears the gray robes of a hermit, and lives that way for the rest of his life.
Frankly Malory isn’t sure whether there’s supposed to be doubt as to whether the body the Archbishop buries is intended, unambiguously, to be Arthur’s. Maybe the women who dropped the corpse off were different women! Maybe the body they dropped off wasn’t the right corpse! Maybe King Arthur will return in Britain’s hour of greatest need! Maybe a lot of things. Malory doesn’t know and has no opinion about the whole once and future king stuff.
He does know one thing for sure, though, which is that news of Arthur’s death eventually reaches Guenever. She’s been in the Tower of London this whole time, and now everybody is dead. Everybody except Launcelot, but he never showed up, so screw him, I guess. Guenever comes out of the tower eventually, but rather than return to Camelot, she travels to Almsbury to become a nun. And, Malory assures us, she’s a great nun. As nuns go Guenever is the best. She wins all the nunning awards.