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Much time has passed. Agravaine is now fifty-five years
old, fat and a borderline alcoholic. Mordred hates Arthur because
he believes that Arthur abandoned him to die as an infant and because
of the long-running feud between his mother’s family and Arthur’s.
Agravaine hates Lancelot because Lancelot has defeated him in jousts countless
times. They decide that the best way to get revenge on Arthur and
Lancelot is to make Lancelot’s affair with Guenever known to Arthur.
Arthur will then have to prosecute Lancelot under the new system
of laws he is trying to establish, and they will then destroy each
Gawaine, Gaheris, and Gareth enter the room. When Gawaine
finds out about Mordred and Agravaine’s plot, he forbids them to
go through with it. Mordred refuses to follow his orders. Agravaine, still
a coward, pulls his sword on his unarmed brother, and Gawaine goes
into a rage. He is on the verge of killing Agravaine when Arthur walks
in, smiling benevolently at all of them.
Lancelot and Guenever sit by a window in Arthur’s castle.
The narrator describes the new England that they see before them.
Arthur’s reign has put an end to the horrors of the past. There
is a burgeoning of artistic accomplishment, and different kinds
of people mingle on the city streets.
Lancelot tells Guenever that Arthur knows all about their
affair and will not punish them, but Guenever says they must be
careful nonetheless. Lancelot is troubled because he loves Arthur
too much to hurt him, but loves Guenever too much to leave her.
Arthur steps into the door and hears them talking, but he quietly
disappears to get a page to announce his presence. When Arthur returns,
he, Lancelot, and Guenever have an awkward conversation about the Orkney
family. Arthur tells them that Mordred is his son. He tells them
too that he had heard horrible prophesies about Mordred and tried
to kill him. Arthur, who was only nineteen at the time, ordered that
all the babies of a certain age be put out to sea, but somehow Mordred
survived. Arthur regrets his decision now and warns that Mordred
is out for revenge and for the throne and that Mordred might try
to use Guenever or Lancelot against him. He informs them that if
he catches either of them working against his kingdom, he will be
forced to prosecute the offender as the law sees fit.
Arthur goes to the Justice Room to work on the new laws.
Gawaine, Gareth, Gaheris, Agravaine, and Mordred are there when
he arrives. Gawaine, Gareth, and Gaheris have been trying to persuade Agravaine
and Mordred not to tell Arthur about Lancelot and Guenever’s affair,
but when Arthur arrives, they tell him anyway, insisting that the
matter should be decided by the new jury laws and not by combat.
They say that if they can produce proof of the adultery, then Arthur
is legally bound to bring the matter to trial. They tell Arthur
that they will try to capture Lancelot in Guenever’s room while
Arthur is away hunting. Arthur eventually consents to their plan,
but hopes aloud that Lancelot will kill all of his accusers. He also
tells Agravaine and Mordred that if their accusation cannot be proven,
he will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
The first night that Arthur is away, Lancelot prepares
to go to Guenever’s quarters. Gareth warns him that Mordred and
Agravaine plan to trap him in her room, but Lancelot ignores his
The fourth book of The Once and Future King,
“The Candle in the Wind,” chronicles the tragic end of King Arthur’s
reign, and therefore the tone is serious. There are a few playful
moments, such as when Lancelot and Guenever sing a duet together,
but a feeling that doom is imminent for Camelot overshadows any
satirical or comical interactions. As the book opens, Mordred and
Agravaine are plotting to put an end to Arthur’s rule, indicating
the central role of revenge in this book’s plot.
In the first two books, Arthur and Lancelot are young,
ambitious, idealistic, and innocent. By the fourth book, they have
developed what White calls the “seventh sense,” a world-weariness
that is the product of mistakes, sins, compromises, and betrayals.
In these chapters, we see the heavy effect of this weariness on
the main characters. Lancelot, Guenever, and Arthur have all come
to depend on each other so much that the only real solution—for
one of them to leave the situation—is impossible. Their joint histories
of dishonor and sin—Lancelot and Guenever’s affair, Lancelot’s pride, Guenever’s
jealousy, Arthur’s early massacre of infants, and Arthur’s unwillingness
to take a stand on the affair—irrevocably bind them together. Now
that Mordred and Agravaine have united, it seems necessary for Arthur,
Guenever, and Lancelot to stick together, although this inevitably
makes things worse. The destruction of Camelot and the end of King
Arthur’s reign are now inevitable.
White’s description of Arthur’s character is compelling
because Arthur’s actions are so confusing and the right path so
obscure. It is difficult to understand, for example, why Arthur
does not warn Guenever and Lancelot that Mordred and Agravaine are
setting a trap for them. Part of the explanation for Arthur’s behavior
is that he is still in denial of the affair, not willing to admit
that he knows of it. The other explanation is that if Arthur were
to warn Lancelot and Guenever, he would be undermining his new system
of justice. By warning them, Arthur would be helping them escape
prosecution and would make himself their accomplice. Arthur’s laws
are the culmination of his conversations with Merlyn about the use
of might and right; to abandon his faith in these laws would be
to reject everything for which he stands. Mordred and Agravaine
are aware of Arthur’s commitment to justice, so they are able to
trap him by his own rules and laws. Arthur does not want to unravel
the society he has built, but to preserve it, he must sacrifice
the two people he loves most.
Gareth’s decision, in Chapter 6,
to warn Lancelot about Mordred’s plot is a stunning break with the
Orkney faction and strong statement of loyalty to Lancelot. It is
a sign both of Gareth’s decency and of the respect that Lancelot
has earned over the years. Lancelot’s decision to ignore Gareth’s
advice, on the other hand, is a reminder of his pride. Despite his
humiliation in the search for the Holy Grail, Lancelot still arrogantly
assumes he knows what Arthur is capable of. Lancelot’s brash faith
in Arthur becomes more presumptuous than touching and has disastrous
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Once and Future King!