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The day after Lancelot defends Guenever’s honor, Nimue
arrives and confirms that Guenever is innocent of poisoning the
knight who died. This announcement comes as part of her promise
to Merlyn to look after Arthur. Arthur decides to hold a tournament
to celebrate Guenever’s acquittal.
Lancelot visits Elaine, who tells him that he must now
stay with her. He agrees to wear her favor, a red sleeve, on his
helmet during the tournament. Lancelot fights valiantly, but is
wounded near the end of the tournament when three knights attack
him at once. When Guenever hears about Elaine’s favor, she becomes
jealous and angry, convinced that Lancelot loves Elaine.
When Lancelot returns to Camelot, he and Guenever fight.
Finally aware that Lancelot does not love her and will never return
to her, Elaine commits suicide. Her body is put in a barge, which
drifts down to Camelot for all to see. At the sight of her dead
rival, Guenever is filled with pity.
At another tournament soon after Elaine’s suicide, the
lines between the Round Table’s factions become clear. Arthur sides
against Lancelot for the first time, and Gareth sides with Lancelot
against his own brothers. One day, Lancelot and Arthur hear that
Guenever has been captured by a knight named Sir Meliagrance who
has secretly been in love with her.
Meliagrance sets an ambush for Lancelot, but Lancelot
manages to get through it and into the castle where Guenever is
held captive. Meliagrance, knowing he will lose any battle with
Lancelot, gives up and begs Guenever to forgive him. Lancelot consents
to Guenever’s request not to kill Meliagrance.
That night, Lancelot cuts through the bars of the window
of Guenever’s room, and the two sleep together for the first time
in a long while. Lancelot cuts his hand as he breaks into her room.
The next morning, Meliagrance discovers Lancelot’s blood on Guenever’s bed
and accuses her of sleeping with one of the knights who guard her
chamber, many of whom were wounded when she was kidnapped. Guenever
denies the accusation. Her denial is accurate, since Lancelot is
not one of the knights guarding her chamber. Lancelot offers to
defend Guenever’s honor in combat. Meliagrance, knowing he is no
match for Lancelot, traps him in a dungeon in his castle.
Lancelot manages to persuade the girl who serves his meals
to help him, and he escapes Meliagrance’s dungeon and shows up for
the challenge. Lancelot knocks Meliagrance off his horse in their
first joust. Meliagrance begs for mercy. Lancelot looks to Guenever,
who indicates that Meliagrance should be killed. Although the crowd agrees
with Guenever, Lancelot does not kill Meliagrance outright. Instead,
he handicaps himself by removing half his armor and tying his left
hand behind his back. He then fights Meliagrance again and wins
easily, cutting Meliagrance’s head in half.
After the incident with Meliagrance, Camelot
seems to be at peace again. Lancelot and Guenever are happy together,
and Arthur does his best to ignore their affair. A man named Sir
Urre, who has been cursed with wounds that will not heal, comes
to Camelot in the hope that the best knight in the world will be
able to heal him. All the knights place their hands on him, but
to no avail. Finally Lancelot, who has been hiding in his room,
afraid of failure, lays his hands on the man and cures him. The
room bursts into a frenzy of celebration, except for Lancelot, who
cries to himself like a child who has been beaten.
A lot occurs in these short, transitional chapters, but
we get the sense that these are only loose ends being wrapped up
before the story comes to its conclusion. Whereas “The Queen of
Air and Darkness” ends with the disastrous liaison of Morgause and
Arthur, “The Ill-Made Knight” concludes somewhat happily. The book ends
with a burst of jubilation, and Camelot feels like a place of uneasy
but real peace. After the chaos of the Holy Grail period, Camelot
returns to the status quo. Certain story lines are brought to a
close, and some secondary figures make their final exits. For example,
Elaine commits suicide and thus no longer interferes with Lancelot’s
relationship with Guenever, eliminating a source of tension in Lancelot’s
and Guenever’s lives.
The tone of these last chapters, however, feels almost
sad, and even the greatest deeds are tainted. Lancelot is finally
able to perform a miracle as the best knight in the world, but he
does so in spite of his sins, not because of his accomplishments.
Guenever is acquitted on a technicality of committing adultery with
one of her knights. Her honor is defended, but only because her
champion proves to be stronger than her accuser. The three main
characters, despite their sins, are able to remain in their roles,
but only because they become resigned to the lie they live. The
optimistic sense that things will resolve themselves is gone. When
Lancelot heals Sir Urre, he cries because it seems to him that even
miracles have lost their sincerity. Lancelot is not perfect, and
the fact the he is allowed to perform miracles despite his sinfulness
makes the whole endeavor seem cheap to him.
In these chapters we see also that Lancelot is a man
who is fundamentally torn. He is both humble and proud, both ambitious
and self-loathing, and he feels that his love for Arthur, Guenever,
and God are in conflict. These contradictory impulses force him
to lie to his best friend, kill a man for rightfully accusing his
mistress of adultery, and ignore the mother of his only son. Lancelot
is so afraid of his own failure that he hides in his room instead
of trying to heal the man who needs his help. He expresses confidence
and power to the world even though he feels insecure and unworthy
inside. Despite all of his sins and despite his inner lack of confidence,
Lancelot is still able to perform a miracle and cure a man who is
mortally wounded. But he can save only others and is so steeped
in sin that he feels he can no longer save himself.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Once and Future King!