Trigger warning: reference to suicide, references to attempted sexual coercion
Last month, Gawain experienced the intense trauma of completing his first quest. We now switch focus to Sir Tor and his first quest, which is all part of the same triple quest that completely hijacked Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding.
As Tor is riding after the knight who took the dog, he is accosted by a dwarf who strikes his horse hard on the head with a staff. This unnecessary aggression is purely to alert Tor to the pair of knights set up nearby who require passing warriors to joust with them. Tor doesn’t have time for this nonsense and for that I salute him, but the knights attack him anyway. Tor is obliged to fight both of them, and wins both encounters. Sir Felot of Langduk and Sir Petipase of Winchelsea are sent as prisoners to Arthur and the dwarf who was in their service switches sides, expressing disapproval of his former employers and requesting to join Tor instead. Tor accepts. This turns out to be a good move because the dwarf knows where to find the knight with the dog.
They ride through a forest and come to a priory. Set up outside are two pavilions, one hung with a white shield and the other hung with a red shield.
Three girls are asleep inside the white pavilion. A lady is asleep in the red pavilion, with the white dog standing guard. It rouses all the women, who emerge from their pavilions. Tor scoops the dog and goes to leave. The lady wants to know what Tor is doing with her dog and warns that Tor will come to no good if he takes her. But Tor was sent for the dog, and so he takes the dog.
Trigger warning: references to rape
Last month we followed the disaster that is Balin le Savage, as he tries to save people and watches them die instead, tries to make friends and makes enemies instead, and learns from exactly none of his mistakes. He was pressed into taking part in a strange custom, fighting the knight of a nearby island. He knows this is a bad idea. He just appears resigned to everything in life being a bad idea and at this point, who can blame him?
Balin’s opponent comes out all in red. Balin does not recognise him but this is Balan, his brother – who does briefly recognise Balin, by the two swords he carries, but dismisses the idea when he sees that Balin carries a different shield. And so they fight, for nothing but custom.
It is a brutal fight. The brothers are pretty evenly matched and neither will back down, and they fight until the field is wet with their blood. At the end, it is Balan who finally draws back, to collapse upon the ground. Balin finally asks his name, and is so grieved by the answer that he too crumples to the ground. Balan crawls over to remove his helm. Balin’s face is so covered in wounds from the fight that he is unrecognisable and it is only when he comes to that Balan realises who he is. The brothers share their rage against the castle and its custom, that has brought about both their slow deaths. Balan was forced to fight and when he defeated the knight of the island, was obliged to remain. Balin was persuaded to give up the shield that would have identified him and prevented this battle. The lady of the castle makes very questionable amends by vowing to have the brothers buried together in one tomb. She then sends for a priest, and that is the end of the brothers Savage.
Trigger warning: reference to suicide
Last month King Rience surrendered his dream of cutting of Arthur’s non-existant beard, but his brother Nero – yes, I did say Nero– grabbed that baton and marched on Camelot.
The battle takes place in front of the Castle Terrabil, which is historically relevant as the place where Igraine’s first husband died. While Arthur is making ready, Merlin goes to King Lot and delays his entry to the battle with ‘a tale of prophecy’, which is a classic Merlin move. Between Arthur, Kay and Sir Hervis de Revel, the forces of Camelot gain an edge, but it’s Balin and Balan who really win the day. Lot hears, too late, that Nero has been killed and deeply regrets hearing Merlin out. What he doesn’t understand is that Merlin, in acting to protect Arthur, was also acting to protect Lot – while Arthur is definitely his favourite, it doesn’t suit him for either king to die right now.
Lot has a choice to make, to press on or make peace. He chooses battle. Lot is a great leader, commanding his men from the front of the action, but he encounters Pellinore on the battlefield and falls under a terrible blow. A strange thing, that Morgause should lost her husband in the same place she lost her father. After Lot’s death, his forces scatter. Twelve kings die in this battle, on the side of Lot and Nero.
Trigger warning: references to child death and suicide
Book 2 begins with a quick recap about how Uther died and Arthur had to wade through a lot of blood to get to the throne. I will add a recap of my own about how some of that blood on Arthur’s hands belonged to the small children of his lords and ladies, in a COMPLETELY pointless effort to murder his infant son Mordred and thereby avert Merlin’s visions of doom.
Trigger warning: references to rape, incest and child death
Arthur, Ban, Bors and twenty thousand of their combined forces take six days to reach Cameliard, where they quickly overpower King Rience’s army. Leodegrance makes much of his rescuers and it is in the midst of this giddy rush of victory that Arthur meets Leodegrance’s daughter, Guenever of Cameliard. Malory tells us that ‘ever after he loved her’.
Ban and Bors are called back to their own lands by the attacks of King Claudas and when Arthur offers to accompany them, they tell him to stay behind and defend his kingdom while they use the spoils of his war to fund theirs. It is a fond farewell, with Ban and Bors swearing to send for Arthur if they need him and telling him to send for them if he falls into similar straits.
Merlin ruins the moment with prophecy. “It shall not need that these two kings come again in the way of war, but I know well King Arthur may not be long from you, for within a year or two ye shall have great need,” Merlin warns, “and then shall he revenge you on your enemies, as ye have done on his. For these eleven kings shall die all in a day, but the great might and prowess of two valiant knights.”
Trigger warning: references to rape
Welcome to this year’s folklore and mythology research project, Year of the King, in which we’re going to work our way through Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. I’m using my beloved two volume hardback edition, published by J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. in 1978. The chapters are pretty short so each post will tackle several at a time. I will be using the spelling of locations and character names that are used in the book, but will also be referencing Arthurian legends from other sources where relevant.
The story begins while Uther Pendragon is, unfortunately, king of England. Think Arthur, but with the wrong vowels and the wrong moral standards.
Uther’s long-time enemy is a Cornish duke who goes unnamed by Malory but who is called Gorlois in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. There is an apparent attempt at accord when Uther asks the duke to come to him, but suspiciously he makes a point of insisting that the duke’s wife should come too. Her name is Dame Igraine. She is very beautiful, and very decisive. When Uther tries to seduce her, she not only wants nothing to do with him, she goes directly to her husband to tell him what happened. She is certain that Uther only asked for them ‘for that I should be dishonoured’ and wants to leave immediately, riding through the night until they reach the safety of their own lands. The duke agrees without hesitation, removing his wife from an unacceptable situation on her terms. I like him very much.
Uther throws an epic tantrum, aided and abetted by his councillors. He orders the duke and his wife to return, and when they obviously refuse, he declares war on them. Igraine stays at the castle of Tintagil and the duke departs for Castle Terrabil, where Uther lays siege on him. The king is claiming to be ‘sick for anger and love of fair Igraine’, a condition that his knight Ulfius takes perfectly seriously. It’s amazing what nonsense kings can get away with. Ulfius goes to find Merlin, who appears disguise as a beggar because that is his own particular brand of nonsense. Merlin says that he will give the king everything he desires – on certain terms.