Year of the King – Vol 1, Book 4, Ch VI- XXV

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Trigger warning: references to sexual harassment

Ch VI

A large company of knights ride out into the forest for a hunt and Arthur, Uriens and Accolon of Gaul give chase to an impressive hart. They ride so far and fast that they leave their friends behind, and so incautiously that their poor horses are killed by the relentless pace. They chase the hart on foot to the bank of a ‘great water’, where the hart is killed by hunting hounds and Arthur is distracted by the arrival of a beautiful little ship. He goes to investigate, his companions close behind.

At first glance the ship appeared abandoned but as night falls, torches around the ship burst into flame and twelve young women emerge, kneeling to Arthur and welcoming him as an expected and honoured guest. He does not think to question this. Instead, he eats their lavish feast, and sleeps in a very comfortable bed, and he wakes up in a prison full of similarly unfortunate knights.

Uriens, meanwhile, wakes in his own bed with his wife Morgan’s arms around him. As for Accolon, well, we’ll get to him soon.

Ch VII

Arthur’s fellow prisoners reveal the full extent of his problem. There are twenty of them, some of whom have been locked up as long as seven years. Their prison in within the castle of Sir Damas, who is at war with his much more popular younger brother Sir Ontzlake. To solve their violent property dispute, Ontzlake offered a one-on-one fight, but Damas didn’t want to risk his own skin and so tried to find a knight who would fight on his behalf. When he realised there was literally nobody willing to do that, he started kidnapping knights and locking them up like a jealous child who doesn’t want other kids to have nice toys. Eighteen knights have already died from the dreadful conditions of their imprisonment. The remaining knights are sticking to their guns, refusing to fight for Damas even as they slowly starve.

A young woman comes to Arthur, the freshest meat, and offers him the same deal as all the other knights. If he fights for Damas, he’ll be freed. Arthur negotiates, asking that all other knights will be freed too, and upon this condition he will fight. All this time, he’s clearly been assessing the girl. “Meseemeth, damosel,” he says, “I should have seen you in the court of Arthur.” The girl tells him that she is Damas’ daughter and has never been to Arthur’s court, which is a total lie, because she’s in service with Morgan le Fay and therefore part of the Plot.

Damas agrees to Arthur’s terms and has him armed. The other knights are taken from their dungeon to watch the battle that will decide their fates.

Ch VIII

Let’s leave Arthur for a moment. Accolon of Gaul woke up dangerously close to the edge of a well and immediately swore to himself to ‘destroy all where I may find these false damosels that use enchantments’. You may remember that this guy is currently banging Morgan le Fay. It’s like watching a slow motion car crash, isn’t it?

Right on cue, a dwarf in the service of Morgan le Fay arrives and tells Accolon – definitely tells, there is no asking involved – that he’ll be fighting a battle tomorrow, and Morgan has sent him the famous sword Excalibur to weigh the odds in his favour. “She biddeth you as ye love her, that ye do the battle to the uttermost,” the dwarf instructs, “without any mercy, like as ye had promised her when ye spake together in private; and what damosel that bringeth her the knight’s head, which ye shall fight withal, she will make her a queen.”

“Recommend me unto my lady queen,” Accolon says, “and tell her all shall be done that I have promised her, and else I will die for it.” Accolon seems to resign himself to the tricks and sorcery now that he knows his girl Morgan is behind it all.

A knight and lady accompanied by six squires pass that way and invite Accolon to their manor, where he hears that Sir Ontzlake is wounded and cannot fight his brother’s champion. Accolon volunteers.

The next day, Arthur rides to the field and one of Morgan’s maidens brings him a sword and scabbard that in every respect look like his own – but they are not, and the love Morgan sends along with them is equally fake.

Ch IX

Arthur and Accolon face off on the field. They smash together in a collision that sends them both to the ground, and leap to their feet to go at it with swords. This isn’t really a fight between two men, however. Behind Accolon stands Morgan, and unexpectedly, behind Arthur stands Nimue, who has found out about Morgan’s plans and decided to come to his rescue.

Arthur soon finds out that he’s not fighting with Excalibur. Every blow from Accolon draws blood and it becomes a question of how long Arthur can keep on his feet. Accolon refuses to allow him to rest – bearing the scabbard, he doesn’t need rest himself. Finally Arthur gets angry enough to strike a powerful blow to Accolon’s head which breaks his false sword apart in his hands.

Ch X

Accolon begins to taunt Arthur, pointing out how his loss is all but guaranteed with no sword. He demands that Arthur yield to him, and Arthur flatly refuses. “For though I lack weapon, I shall lack no worship,” Arthur declares, “and if thou slay me weaponless that shall be thy shame.” Accolon obviously ditched shame when he hooked up with Morgan, because he’s ready to finish this, but Arthur fights with his shield, using it as a blunt weapon to strike at Accolon’s sword hand.

Nimue is impressed by Arthur’s strength and tenacity. Unlike Merlin, she has no particular stake in Arthur’s survival – but she likes him, and that’s enough to turn the battle. By her enchantment, Excalibur falls from Accolon’s hand and Arthur snatches it up, immediately recognising the sword as his own. Knowing that, he tears the scabbard from Accolon as well. “O knight,” Arthur says, “this day hast thou done me great damage with this sword; now are ye come unto your death.” He slams Accolon to the ground. Accolon acknowledges that Arthur is the better knight, but refuses to yield. Accolon’s face is covered in blood. Still, there is something about him that rings a bell, and instead of just killing him, Arthur demands to know where he comes from. Accolon gives his name.

The minute he does that, Arthur puts the pieces together and is horrified by what he sees.

Ch XI

Accolon says the sword has been in his possession for the better part of a YEAR. “Morgan le Fay, King Uriens’ wife, sent it me yesterday by a dwarf, to this intent, that I should slay King Arthur, her brother,” Accolon confesses. “For ye shall understand King Arthur is the man in the world that she most hateth because he is most of worship and of prowess of any of her blood.” He goes on to say that once Arthur is dead, Morgan plans to get rid of Uriens as well, and then make Accolon king of the land to her queen.

Accolon then shows that he has contributed absolutely NOTHING to the planning of this regicidal scheme by asking which court Arthur comes from. He didn’t know who he was fighting. He was literally given Excalibur and told to show no mercy and he didn’t know who he was fighting. I’m going out on a limb and assuming his position in Morgan’s court would be purely decorative.

Arthur tells Accolon who he really is. “O Sir Accolon,” he says, “mercy shalt thou have, because I feel by they words at this time thou knewest not my person; but I understand well by thy words that thou hast agreed to the death of my person and therefore thou art a traitor.” He’s more inclined to blame Morgan, however, implying that he believes she exercised some kind of enchantment over Accolon. He seems genuinely devastated by her betrayal, the sister who he says he trusted above his wife and all his kin.

Arthur calls over the keepers of the field to tell them that had either knight known the other, there would have been no battle, and Accolon tells them that it is King Arthur, ‘the most man of prowess, of manhood, and of worship in the world’. It’s amazing how much he seems to like the man now he’s been caught plotting to assassinate him.

Ch XII

Upon learning that Damas’ press-ganged champion is none other than King Arthur, the audience goes to their knees. Despite all the terrible revelations and equally terrible injuries, Arthur remembers to tell Damas that despite his champion winning on the field, he certainly has not won in real life. Arthur gives Ontzlake the manor and invites him to court while warning Damas that if any of his erstwhile prisoners come to complain of him, he will pay for it with his life.

Arthur then moves to his own problems. He is two days away from Camelot and is unable to travel far due to his injuries. He goes to an abbey, taking Accolon with him, for medical treatment. Four days later, Arthur is much recovered and Accolon is dead. Arthur sends his corpse to Camelot. “Bear him to my sister Morgan le Fay, and say that I send her him to a present,” he says, “and tell her I have my sword Excalibur and the scabbard.”

Ch XIII

Morgan, meanwhile, is proceeding on the assumption that Arthur is dead and she moves on to phase two. While Uriens lies sleeping, she sends one of her maids for a sword to kill him. The maid warns that Morgan will never escape if she murders her husband, but Morgan will not be dissuaded. The maid goes to Morgan’s son Uwaine and wakes him up, urging him to intervene. She then brings Morgan the sword and Morgan goes to strike. Uwaine lunges to catch her hand. “An thou wert not my mother,” he says furiously, “with this sword I should smite off they head.”

Morgan tells him that she was tempted by a devil and promises never to do it again. Uwaine accepts  her word. What else is he going to do?

Ch XIV

Morgan seems to have truly cared for Accolon. When she learns of his death, she is devastated, but she is a woman made of steel and shows no sign of her grief. Knowing that when Arthur reaches court, it’s all up for her, she asks Guinevere’s leave to go riding into the country and gets it, because of course Guinevere has no idea what Morgan has been doing.

Morgan leaves early and makes for the abbey where Arthur is recovering from his injuries. He has told no one there about Morgan’s betrayal, so she can just sweep in and give orders. “ I charge you that none of you awake him till I do,” she says, and goes to his room, where she finds him sleeping with Excalibur in his hand. The man has learned caution. She seizes the scabbard and slips out again.

Arthur quickly notices that the scabbard is missing and on discovering that Morgan came and terrorised the nuns, immediately sets out in pursuit. Ontzlake, who also seems to have recovered from his injuries, joins him. They catch up to her in the forest and chase after her onto a plain. Morgan is travelling with a company of men, but apparently this is not protection enough. Fearing capture, she hurls the scabbard into a lake so that at least her brother won’t get it back. She rides on into a rocky valley, where she transforms herself and her men into marble.

Having lost her, Arthur goes to look for the scabbard; having lost that too, he returns to the abbey. When he’s gone, Morgan restores herself and her men. “Sirs,” she says, “now may we go where we will.”

The lady may be a murderous power hungry sorceress, but damn, she’s got style.

Ch XV

As Morgan rides on, she encounters one knight leading another who is trussed up and blindfolded on the back of his horse. When Morgan enquires what is happening, the knight in the lead explains that he plans to drown his companion, because he was hooking up with the knight’s wife. Morgan asks the prisoner for his version of events. He protests his innocence. He also tells her that he is Manassen, a knight of Arthur’s court and cousin to Accolon of Gaul. Morgan, still grieving for Accolon, has Manassen freed and his captor drowned in his place.

Morgan sends Manassen away with a message for Arthur. “Tell him that I rescue thee, not for the love of him but for the love of Accolon, and tell him I fear him not while I can make me and them that be with me in likeness of stones; and let him wit I can do much more when I see my time.” BURN. She heads into her husband’s kingdom of Gore, where she takes control and prepares for Arthur’s next move.

Arthur returns to Camelot and he tells his court all about Morgan’s betrayal. There is a chorus of voices wanting Morgan to be burnt. When Manassen comes to court with his story, it has the desired effect of infuriating Arthur. “Well, she is a kind sister,” he says. “I shall so be avenged on her an I love, that all Christendom shall speak of it.”

In the morning Morgan sends one of her maidens to Camelot with an extraordinarily beautiful mantle decorated with jewels. “Your sister sendeth you this mantle,” the maiden tells Arthur, “and desireth that ye should take this gift of her; and in what thing she hath offended you, she will amend it at your own pleasure.”

Ch XVI

Arthur likes the mantle. Before he can take it, however, Nimue draws him aside and tells him not to touch Morgan’s gift – or allow any of his knights to touch it – until the maiden herself has worn it. Arthur trusts in this advice, commanding the maiden to put on the mantle. She really doesn’t want to do it, and it’s soon clear why, because as soon as it is put on her she falls dead and her body burns.

I wonder if that was Morgan’s vicious little joke, to burn Arthur as she surely knew his court would have burned her for the treason?

Arthur is, understandably, FURIOUS. He calls for Uriens, but more to vent at him than out of real suspicion – Accolon accidentally acquitted him, by revealing Morgan’s plan to kill her husband after killing Arthur. Uwaine, however, is under suspicion, and because Arthur can just do whatever he wants with these negative family feelings, he turfs Uwaine out of the court without trial.

“Whoso banisheth my cousin-germain shall banish me,” declares Gawain, and the two knights leave Camelot together. Arthur is troubled to lose Gawain, as well he might be.

Uwaine and Gawain ride into a wooded valley, where they find a tower, two knights and twelve young women. A white shield hangs from a tree and the girls are passionately abusing it.

Ch XVII

The cousins ask about this peculiar ritual and the girls tell them that the owner of the shield is known for hating women, so they return the sentiment and hate him. Gawain sympathises with them but can’t resist the urge to mansplain, suggesting that the knight in question might like some ladies somewhere. Upon learning that the knight’s name is Sir Marhaus, prince of Ireland, Uwaine chimes in with the memory that Marhaus is an impressive jouster, which is apparently a vital redeeming characteristic. Gawain tells the ladies to leave the shield alone.

Marhaus rides up then and the ladies flee into the tower with what seems to be genuine fear. And they have reason to be afraid! The two knights of the tower do battle with Marhaus and are both killed in no time at all.

Ch XVIII

Having killed the knights guarding the tower, Marhaus goes to retrieve his shield and sees how the ladies of the tower have abused it. Alluding to the love of a woman who gave him the shield, he wears it anyway, and rides over to the watching cousins to ask who they are. Uwaine and Gawain skip over the bit where one of them is technically banished and say vaguely that they are seeking adventure. Marhaus is amenable to a bit of adventure himself, but unfortunately they are knights so ‘adventure’ in this context means combat. Uwaine is reluctant to fight. However, when Gawain insists, Uwaine decides to fight first as the weaker knight, so that if he is killed Gawain can avenge him. This is genuinely how these men think. Yes, it is concerning.

Uwaine shatters Marhaus’ spear, Marhaus gives Uwaine a bad blow to the side. Marhaus then rides at Gawain, who loses both spear and seat on his horse. They then fight on foot. What Marhaus doesn’t know is that from the hour of nine until noon, Gawain’s power increases threefold. Strange magic runs in the family.

Past noon, Gawain’s strength ebbs. Marhaus is fascinated by him and proposes that they give up the fight and be friends, which leads to Gawain and Uwaine lodging with him overnight. Gawain asks about Marhaus’ supposed dislike of women. Marhaus is offended; he dislike the women of that tower specifically because they are sorceresses and ‘be a knight never so good of his body and full of prowess as man may be, they will make him a stark coward to have the better of him’.

I think we have found Morgan’s people.

Marhaus is lodging at a priory. The women there seem to be on better terms with him, tending the wounds of all three men. They stay for seven days as they recover and then leave as a trio, riding until they reach the forest of Arroy, which is notorious for strange adventures.

The group come to a valley full of stones and a fountain where three women are seated. One is white-haired and elderly, wearing a circlet of gold; the second is younger, about thirty years old, wearing silver. The youngest is about fifteen and her circlet is made of flowers.

The knights ask what the ladies are doing at the fountain and are told that they are there to guide errant knights toward adventure. Each knight must pick one of the women, who will then guide him to a highway. Within the year, the knights must then return to this spot.

I can see why this place has a reputation.

Ch XIX

Uwaine is first to decide. He refers to himself as the weakest of the knights, as well as the youngest, and he reasons that it is best for him to take the eldest of the ladies because he most needs her wisdom. This is how you make friends and influence people. Marhaus picks the lady who is about thirty, saying ‘she falleth best to me’ without further explanation and I think we can probably figure out his reasoning. Gawain is left with the youngest of the ladies, which suits him fine. Each lady takes her knight’s horse by the reins and takes him to a different path. With the promise to return on that day a year from now, they take leave of each other.

Uwaine turns west, Marhaus south and Gawain north. Gawain ends up at a manor and asks to be directed to an adventure. The old knight who lives in the manor leads him to a forest, and a cross there, and a very beautiful, very sad knight who passes them as they stand there. Gawain greets him politely. The young man is equally polite but incredibly depressed.

Ch XX

A reason for this misery is rapidly revealed as ten knights appear in pursuit of this one man. He unhorses each one of them, but is captured just the same. Gawain is shocked. He says that he would like to assist but does not think he would be welcomed. His lady remarks that he does not sound like he wants to help the knight.

Another knight, all in armour save for a helmet, rides forth accompanied by a dwarf. A lady was supposed to meet with them here, and when she comes out of the wood, this new knight announces he will have her and the dwarf declares the same, as if she is a piece of jewellery lost on the road. They go to Gawain to mediate and Gawain commands the lady to stand between them and choose one of the two. She picks the dwarf, who is delighted.

We don’t take even a moment to think about what on earth is going on, because two more knights show up, recognise Gawain and want to fight him.While Gawain is fighting one of them, the other goes to his lady companion and asks if she’ll ditch Gawain to go with him instead. She says yes, being disgusted with how Gawain did not rescue that knight in need.

Gawain and the other knight become friends and Gawain lodges with him overnight. He asks his new friend who the captured knight might be and is told that his name is Sir Pelleas. There was a three day joust, with the prize being a good sword and a golden circlet, the circlet to be presented to the fairest lady present. Pelleas won, and gave the circlet to his love, the lady Ettard.

If you want to know how bad this kind of thing can go – see Greek mythology for Paris and the fall of Troy. Beauty contests are no joke.

Ch XXI

Pelleas might have loved Ettard, but the interest was not reciprocated. And while the ladies present at the time judged her, let’s be fair, being presented with a golden circlet by the winner of a tournament is pretty similar to a public proposal – she’s entitled to be creeped out by that! To make matters worse, ‘this knight promised the lady Ettard to follow her into this country, and never to leave her till she loved him’. That is stalker level nonsense.

So this is where they are at – Pelleas is lodging at a priory and every week, Ettard sends her knights against him to try and drive him away. Pelleas allows himself to be captured so that he can see Ettard, however humiliating the process might be. Gawain sides with Pelleas and decides to help him out. He finds him easily enough in the forest and Pelleas proves willing to pour out his story to a sympathetic ear. Pelleas is convinced that he can wear Ettard down to loving him in the end, because he has no idea what the word ‘consent’ means.

Gawain decides to try and trick Ettard by wearing Pelleas’ armour, riding his horse and pretending to have killed him, to win Ettard’s trust. Oh, this is going to be something else.

Ch XXIII

The knights swear loyalty to one another over this completely unhinged plan and Gawain sets off. When Ettard catches sight of a man in Pelleas’ armour, she runs for it, which just tells you everything about this situation, doesn’t it? Gawain reassures her that he is not Pelleas and introduces himself, claiming to have killed Pelleas. “Truly that is great pity,” Ettard sasys, “for he was a passing good knight of his body, but of all men a-live I hated him most, for I could never be quit of him.” She is inclined to be a good deal more interested in Gawain.

He sells her some sort of sob story about how he loves a lady but she doesn’t want him and Ettard coos over this imaginary lady’s foolishness. “There is no lady in the world too good for you,” she tells Gawain. He tells her that she is the one he loves. They then bang it out in a pavilion for two days and nights straight, until Pelleas comes to find out what’s going on and sees the woman he has been obsessing over in the arms of his supposed ally.

Pelleas is then in two minds over whether to kill the lovers. After some struggle with himself, he decides it is too dishonourable and instead lays his naked sword over their throats before going to settle his own business. He discharges his knights and squires, rewarding them for their service, then lies down to die. He commands that when he is dead, the heart be taken from his body and presented to Ettard between two silver dishes. This man is on another LEVEL of self delusion.

When Ettard wakes up underneath the blade of a sword, she knows at once that Gawain is a lying liar who lies. She is furious at being betrayed.

Meanwhile, Nimue happens to be in the forest. She hears the story of Pelleas from one of his knights, and asks to be taken to him. She falls for him on sight, and lays an enchantment on him that causes him to sleep. She then goes to find Ettard and bring her back to Pelleas. Ettard is enchanted to love Pelleas, as punishment for his ‘murder’. Meanwhile he has precisely no love for her now at all.

Nimue, I expected BETTER from you.

Ch XIII

Pelleas now despises Ettard, looking back in wonder at all he endured for her – for his obsession with her, not for the woman herself. “And now such grace God hath sent me, that I hate her as much as ever I loved her, thanked be our Lord Jesus!” he declares. “Thank me,” Nimue says. She summons Pelleas away as her lover, and Ettard dies of a magic-induced broken heart.

There is literally no one in this story, except Ettard, who comes out looking like a decent person.

Ch XXIV

Marhaus took the lady in her thirties as his guide. They come to a property and ask for lodging but are refused; instead they are taken to a mystery lodging where they may find adventure, which is the sort of thing you agree to if you have an ego the size of a planet and they haven’t invented horror movies yet.

They are taken to a castle, and the lord there agrees to let Marhaus and his lady have lodging. “Let him in,” is the lord’s exact phrasing, “it may happen he shall repent that they took their lodging here.” This is what I meant about horror movies. I bet he’s got a dungeon.

Anyway, Marhaus introduces himself and the lord announces that he does not like Arthur nor anyone from the Round Table, so Marhaus will be fighting not only the lord but his six sons too in the morning. Marhaus, dismayed, asks if that’s really necessary. Turns out that this, like numerous others things, is Gawain’s fault. Gawain killed seven of the lord’s sons and so now any knight of King Arthur will pay as part of the lord’s vengeance. The lord’s name is the Duke of the South Marches, a name Marhaus grimly recognises.

Marhaus is allowed to sleep in peace, as is his lady, but in the morning the duke and his six sons are on horseback, armed with spears, ready to avenge those seven dead men.

Ch XXV

It is not a fair fight. The lord’s sons ride at Marhaus in pairs, but their spears break and Marhaus holds firm. He rides at the lord himself and brings him to the ground, and manages to do the same to all of his sons, which is quite the feat. Marhaus then demands the lord yield or he’ll kill him.

It is REALLY not a fair fight, because despite being beaten by the rules of the combat, the lord’s sons are ready to take Marhaus by force of numbers. Marhaus warns the lord to call off the young knights or he really will kill him, and the lord commands his sons to yield. They are to give up their enmity with Arthur and present themselves at court at Whitsuntide.

Marhaus and his lady depart, probably with a lot of relief. The lady leads him to a tournament which, interestingly, seems to be run by a woman, the Lady de Vawse. The winner has been promised a circlet of gold. Marhaus competes in the tournament and wins the circlet within a few sentences and moves on with his life.

A week later he’s in the lands of a young earl, Fergus, who has just inherited and is facing giant trouble. Like, literal giants, it’s a giant called Taulurd. He had a brother Taulus in Cornwall but Sir Tristram, who we are going to hear an awful lot about later on, killed him, which leaves Taulurd rampaging about on poor Earl Fergus’ lands. Marhaus goes to fight him. Discovering that the giant cannot fight on horseback, he decides to fight on foot too, because that’s just what knights are like.

The giant is sitting under a holly tree, surrounded by iron clubs. His first blow demolishes Marhaus’ shield. It looks pretty bad for Marhaus at first, but then he manages to strike a blow that takes off Taulurd’s right arm, and Taulurd loses his nerve. The giant flees and Marhaus chases him into a body of water. Here Taulurd’s size works against him, because the water is not deep to hide him. Marhaus lets loose on him with rocks until he drowns.

Marhaus then searches Taulurd’s castle, where twelve knights and TWENTY FOUR ladies had been held captive. ‘There he had great riches without number’, we are told, which sounds like Marhaus is now financially set up for life. Fergus has to be talked out of giving Marhaus half his lands from sheer gratitude, and Marhaus lives with him for six months while he recovers from his injuries.

Later he meets up with Gawain and Uwaine, as agreed, then goes on to fight four knights – Sir Sagramore the Desirous, Sir Osanna, Sir Dodinas le Savage and Sir Felot of Listinoise – bringing them down with one spear. But that’s another story. Next time, we will be leaving Marhaus to go find out what Uwaine has been up to.

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