The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King

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Lancelot is considered to be the best knight in Arthur's court and his best friend. Lancelot, despite his talent, is deeply insecure and conflicted about his worthiness. He has a long affair with Queen Guenever, which only accentuates deep insecurities about his morality. On a quest, he is seduced by a woman named Elaine who gives birth to his son—Galahad.

Sir Lancelot Quotes in The Once and Future King

The The Once and Future King quotes below are all either spoken by Sir Lancelot or refer to Sir Lancelot. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Ace Books edition of The Once and Future King published in 1987.
Book 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

The boy [Lancelot] thought there was something wrong with him. All through his life—even when he was a great man with the world at his feet—he was to feel this gap: something at the bottom of his heart of which he was aware, and ashamed, but which he did not understand.

Related Characters: Sir Lancelot
Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:

Two years after Lancelot begins his training to hopefully excel as a knight in King Arthur’s court, he feels frustrated by his stagnation; he has not yet become knighted, and he has not yet become as close to Arthur as he wishes to be. Here, he rides towards Camelot with this discouragement and with this curious jealousy of Arthur’s wife Guenever, which will transform into another secretive yet even more dangerous emotion as the narrative continues. As the narrator describes this scene, he mentions that Lancelot was “jealous” and “ashamed”; as ever, he is torn between two of his emotions. Our narrator also curiously calls Lancelot a “hero-worshipper,” just as he described Arthur (as Wart) in the novel’s first chapter. This begins to create a curiously potent relation between these two knights – the king of them all, and the finest of them all – that will contribute to the ruin of the kingdom.

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Book 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

For one thing, he [Lancelot] liked to hurt people. It was for the strange reason that he was cruel, that the poor fellow never killed a man who asked for mercy, or committed a cruel action which he could have prevented. One reason why he fell in love with Guenever was because the first thing he had done was to hurt her. He might never have noticed her as a person, if he had not seen the pain in her eyes.

Related Characters: Sir Lancelot, Queen Guenever
Page Number: 339
Explanation and Analysis:

After the narrator describes the Roman campaign, in which Lancelot emerged as the finest fighter in Arthur’s army, he dwells on Lancelot’s character, reflecting on the ways that people from later times interpret Lancelot. Lancelot is inherently contradictory, like the medieval knight, a figure who was simultaneously supposed to excel at the harshest martial combat and the gentler conquest of love, according to chivalric notions. Indeed, the narrator directly associates Lancelot with such knights (“he was a knight with medieval respect for honour”). In this context, it appears slightly less odd that Lancelot fell in love with Guenever because he hurt her; this contradiction merely underscores the essential nature of the accomplished medieval knight, who is supposed to perfectly balance both violence and love.

Book 3, Chapter 18 Quotes

"Arthur," he [Lancelot] said. Then he gave a loud shriek, and jumped straight out of the window, which is on the first floor. They could hear him crash into some bushes, with a crump and crackle of boughs, and then he was running off through the trees and the shrubbery with a loud sort of warbling cry, like hounds hunting.

Related Characters: Sir Lancelot (speaker)
Page Number: 396
Explanation and Analysis:

The previous night, Lancelot was with Elaine, thinking that she was Guenever. In her anger, Guenever summons both Lancelot and Elaine to come to her in the following morning. Once they have arrived, Guenever calls Elaine an animal and orders Lancelot to go. He certainly does; he cries "Arthur," and then jumps out of the window and runs away through the wooded area, rather like an animal. His loyalties to Arthur and Guenever have proven too difficult for him to handle as a man, and he reverts to madness for some time, fitting in to a medieval trope (fleeing the court and becoming a wandering madman for a while) and escaping from his personal inner contradictions. 

Book 3, Chapter 26 Quotes

Lancelot looked uncomfortable. He had an instinctive dislike for Mordred, and did not like having it…He disliked Mordred irrationally, as a dog dislikes a cat—and he felt ashamed of the dislike, because it was a confused principle of his to help the younger Knights.

Related Characters: Sir Lancelot, Mordred
Page Number: 427
Explanation and Analysis:

Shortly before Gareth tells Arthur and Lancelot that Mordred, Agravaine, and Gawaine have killed Morgause and Sir Pellinore for having sexual relations, the king and his best friend are conversing in general about the gossip and characters of "these decadent days" (these remarkably peaceful times). Yet even this peaceful, pleasant discussion is marred by the existence of malice in Arthur's court, particularly in Morgause and Mordred, as usual. Lancelot instinctively feels Mordred's evil, although in typical Lancelot fashion, he feels rather confused and conflicted about this because he is impelled to help Arthur's knights who are younger than him. Lancelot's mistrust of Mordred is natural, "instinctive" - "as a dog dislikes a cat." This fact, like Merlyn's lessons, points to the connectedness of human society and nature, and suggests that the simple, penetrating power of animal instinct has much to offer over-complicated human society.  

Book 3, Chapter 43 Quotes

Nobody knows what they said to each other. Malory says that "they made either to other their complaints of many diverse things." Probably they agreed that it was impossible to love Arthur and also to deceive him. Probably Lancelot made her understand about his God at last, and she made him understand about her missing children. Probably they agreed to accept their guilty love as ended.

Related Characters: King Arthur or Wart, Sir Lancelot, Queen Guenever
Page Number: 503
Explanation and Analysis:

At Meliagrance’s castle, Lancelot arrives and Guenever “won the battle by mistake”; she had allowed Lancelot to live apart from her, pursuing holiness and religious piety, and this relenting had spurred Lancelot to come back to her. They become lovers again, and Lancelot goes to the window of Guenever’s inner room, where she meets him and they converse. The narrator does not reveal the nature of this exchange; instead he provides us with Malory’s description, and then speculates on what “probably” transpired between the two of them. The two lovers “probably” discussed the reasons against their behavior – Lancelot’s God and Guenever’s “missing children” – before Lancelot completely breaks the window and comes in anyways. This suggests that the “old electric message” between Lancelot and Guenever’s eyes creates a kind of inevitable attraction between the two of them, which makes their lovemaking a matter of destiny, despite their best attempts to avoid such inappropriate behavior.

Book 4, Chapter 4 Quotes

"You see, Lance, I have to be absolutely just. I can't afford to have any more things like those babies on my conscience. The only way I can keep clear of force is by justice. Far from being willing to execute his enemies, a real king must be willing to execute his friends."

Related Characters: King Arthur or Wart (speaker), King Arthur or Wart, Sir Lancelot
Page Number: 550
Explanation and Analysis:

In Guenever's solar (private upper chamber), Lancelot, Guenever, and Arthur sit during the "sundown of chivalry" and discuss the problem of Mordred -- how Mordred was conceived by Morgause and Arthur, and likely bears hatred that threatens Arthur's kingdom. Although Arthur should perhaps kill Mordred preemptively, as Lancelot advocates (and as Arthur tried to do long ago, and ended up killing many innocent babies instead), Arthur claims that he cannot do so because he is king and must act according to justice. This scene is overwhelmingly ironic; at this very moment, Arthur is purposefully neglecting to punish Lancelot and Guenever. He only follows the principle of justice so strictly when it does not interfere with his powerful but simple loyalty to his best friend and wife.

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Sir Lancelot Character Timeline in The Once and Future King

The timeline below shows where the character Sir Lancelot appears in The Once and Future King. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 2, Chapter 8
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...the knights young before they are impressed by the old chivalry—for instance, the young child Lancelot. Merlyn then tells Arthur that King Leodegrance has a round table that will do and,... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 10
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...he has forgotten to tell Arthur something—they have spoken about the battle, about Guenever and Lancelot, about Arthur's sword Excalibur and about his father. Instead of what he can't remember, Merlyn... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 1
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The young Lancelot is in the Armory at the Castle Benwick in northern France—his father's castle. He is... (full context)
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Lancelot is fiercely in love with Arthur. When they were embarking for France after Pellinore's wedding,... (full context)
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Ever since then, Lancelot has been spending every day in the Armory, practicing to become a knight for Arthur.... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 2
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Lancelot will grow up to be the greatest knight King Arthur had. But, for now, he... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 3
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One day in late Summer, Uncle Daps and Lancelot are practicing in the Armory. A page comes in to say there are visitors for... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 4
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Lancelot is riding towards Camelot with a bitter heart and Uncle Dap at his side. He... (full context)
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The knight does not get angry but simply laughs good-humoredly and looks with admiration at Lancelot. He takes his helmet off—it is King Arthur! Lancelot quickly kneels before him, but Arthur... (full context)
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Arthur knights Lancelot the very next day. He then introduces Lancelot to Guenever—a young woman with startling black... (full context)
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Weeks pass. In the second half of summer, Arthur gives Lancelot a hawk for the season. Lancelot, however, does not have a hawking assistant and so... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 6
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Lancelot is a peculiar man with a contradictory nature: he likes to hurt people and is... (full context)
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When Arthur and Lancelot arrive in England, Lancelot quickly realizes Guenever would come between them: he sees her kiss... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 7
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These are the first of Lancelot's famous quests. Here are just a few examples of many quests over many months: one... (full context)
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Lancelot continues on; while sleeping, a pageant of four women come across him, the leader of... (full context)
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Next on his travels, Lancelot comes across a damsel riding a white mare; he asks her if there is an... (full context)
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This joust is unlike other's Lancelot has attempted: the knight is almost equally matched with Lancelot. The fight goes on, they... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 8
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Lancelot has two more quests on his year-long adventure, before returning to court: he is riding... (full context)
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A while later, Lancelot sees a maiden being pursued madly by a knight on horseback. The woman cries and... (full context)
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...their questing and for all conquered knights to present themselves to Arthur for pardon. However, Lancelot had told all those he conquered to present themselves to Guenever instead. Lancelot then asks... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 11
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Lancelot stays at the court for several weeks, but it is torturous to be around Guenever.... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 12
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While at the Castle of Corbin, Lancelot is plagued by depression—he does not want to quest or do anything. One evening, particularly... (full context)
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The next morning, Lancelot wakes up heavy-headed, confused and in a strange room. The body lying next to him... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 13
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Guenever is stitching her tapestry and thinking of Lancelot: she is twenty-two and rife with emotions. It isn't that she doesn't love Arthur, she... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 14
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One morning, Arthur announces that he has received a letter from Lancelot's father—he is being attacked and needs Arthur's help to quell the attack. Arthur asks Lancelot... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 15
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Finally, King Arthur returns from France and Lancelot and Guenever's bliss is destroyed—but not because of Arthur's return. Sir Bors (Lancelot's cousin) had... (full context)
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Later that evening, when alone together, Guenever confronts Lancelot: she accuses him of lying to her, of being in love with Elaine and keeping... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 16
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...Elaine is preparing for her journey to Camelot; she has decided to try and win Lancelot from Guenever. Being young and immature, she is not versed in the art of seduction... (full context)
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One afternoon, Arthur comes across Lancelot in the rose garden looking wretched. Arthur knows deep down about Lancelot and Guenever's affair,... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 18
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The next morning, Lancelot and Elaine are summoned to Guenever's chamber. Lancelot is content; the night before he had... (full context)
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Elaine speaks calmly: "Lancelot was in my room last night…He thought he was coming to you." The Queen does... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 19
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...with a boar hunt and supposedly been killed. The rumor is this man was Sir Lancelot. (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 20
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...a crowd has gathered around the wild man; he asks him if he is Sir Lancelot, but the man only roars aggressively. King Pelles orders him to be locked up. (full context)
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...King Pelles places his own gown on the shoulders of the wild man. Suddenly, Sir Lancelot, thin, unshaven and dirty, stands straight and regal in the middle of the hall and... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 21
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...morning Elaine is walking in the castle garden with Galahad. She does not grieve for Lancelot; she barely thinks about him now. One of the girls beckons her over—there is a... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 22
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Lancelot recovers slowly. Elaine visits him once a day, but does not cry or bother him.... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 23
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Spring arrives and Elaine throws a tournament for five hundred knights at her and Lancelot's new home. But, the Chevalier Mal Fet (Lancelot's new name) knocks down every single one... (full context)
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One morning, Elaine and Lancelot are sitting on the banks of the moat with Galahad when two strangers are announced,... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 24
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Lancelot is resolute to the remonstrations of the knights—he will not leave Elaine. They tell him... (full context)
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...staying with them for a week now and Elaine knows she is going to lose Lancelot. She makes him promise that if he does leave, he will one day return to... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 25
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...are a horde of new ones who know Arthur only as the accepted conqueror and Lancelot as the hero of a hundred victories. The two are now legends, idealized by common... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 26
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Arthur and Lancelot are watching Gareth practice with his bow. Gareth became a knight by escaping from Orkney... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 27
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When the two leave, Lancelot and Guenever look questioningly at Arthur who is awash with rage. Finally, Arthur begins to... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 31
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Still, there is no news of Lancelot. Rumors circulate of Lancelot unhorsed, defeated, dead. Finally, one wet and miserable day, Lancelot comes... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 32
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Guenever is overdressed for the occasion—her face is too painted. Lancelot however sees the same girl of twenty, trying desperately to defy the doom of human... (full context)
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...woke, all his knightly things were gone. He confessed the biggest sin on his conscience (Lancelot seems about to spill the secret of his relationship with Guenever, but she stops him). (full context)
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Lancelot was given penance and rode away. He came across two warring sides in a tournament... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 33
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...a forestland where a white knight was waiting to take Galahad to the Holy Grail. Lancelot knew he would not be taken too, but asked Galahad to pray for him. The... (full context)
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Finally, the ship came alongside a castle when it was black as death. Lancelot put on his armor and snuck into the castle until he came to a chapel.... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 34
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...garments and perfumes. Guenever is no longer painted; she is happy and contented again although Lancelot has not yet come back to her—but she knows he will eventually. The real tragedy... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 35
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The days and weeks of waiting for Lancelot to come back to Guenever turn into months. Guenever grows angrier, angry at Lancelot's selfishness,... (full context)
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...morning while they are singing alone together. Mid-song, Guenever closes the music books. She asks Lancelot to leave again; she does not want to quarrel or make a scene, but he... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 36
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...prosecutor and defendant. Arthur cannot, by the rules, fight on behalf of his wife and Lancelot is absent from court. Guenever (because of her unpopularity) has no other knight to ask... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 37
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It is cold and Guenever sitting in the stands, looks older than ever. Naturally, Lancelot is the one to rescue her—Sir Bors had sped off to find Lancelot as soon... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 38
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...and clears up the whole Patrick accusation with her foresight. Although this is resolved and Lancelot returned to save the Queen, he still will not give up his loyalty to God.... (full context)
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...the Castle Corbin—where Elaine now lives out her middle-age. The Queen is bitter and accuses Lancelot of wanting to go to the tournament so he can see Elaine; she makes him... (full context)
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As he rides towards Corbin, Lancelot is surprised to see Elaine standing on the battlements where he left her twenty years... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 39
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Lancelot is successful at the tournament. He wears a favor made for him by Elaine—although he... (full context)
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Before the tournament, Lancelot had been unable to tell Elaine he would not be staying for good; and now,... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 40
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When Lancelot returns to Camelot, Guenever is in a rage. She believes Elaine has become his mistress... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 41
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Life at court continues. At the next tournament, something strange happens: Arthur challenges Lancelot, sets upon him and tries to hurt him. It is as if, for the first... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 42
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By the time Sir Meliagrance arrives at his castle with Guenever, he knows Lancelot will soon arrive. He decides the best thing to do is to blockade the castle... (full context)
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...outside; coming towards the castle, riding a cart and pulling a mangled-looking horse behind, is Lancelot. Sir Meliagrance had him held up by archers (hence the mangled horse), but had not... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 43
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Guenever's chamber has no glass windows, but iron bars on it. That night, Lancelot finds a ladder in the garden and climbs to her window. They speak, about Arthur... (full context)
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...enters her chamber to wake her. However, he sees blood all over the sheets (from Lancelot's hand with the bars) and quickly accuses her of having had one of the wounded... (full context)
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Sir Meliagrance asks Lancelot if they can remain cordial despite their impending fight because he wants to show Lancelot... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 44
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The second trial by combat is more sensational than the first. Lancelot arrives at the very last minute, riding one of Sir Meliagrance's white horses. Meliagrance goes... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 45
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Arthur, Guenever and Lancelot are on the eve of their Indian summer—gossip has been silenced and discourtesy put down.... (full context)
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However, Lancelot has to face one last challenge. There is a knight, Sir Urre from Hungary, who... (full context)
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It is the feast of Pentecost and Lancelot is hiding in the harness-room. Whole lines of Knights are waiting to heal Sir Urre—half... (full context)
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Finally, it is Lancelot's turn. He kneels next to Sir Urre but pleads with Arthur not to make him... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 1
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The conversation moves to the subject of Lancelot—whereas before, Mordred had been enraged and Agravaine indifferent, now they are reversed. Agravaine raves about... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 3
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Lancelot and Guenever, now aged lovers, are sitting in the window of her solar, looking out... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 4
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As Lancelot and Guenever sit in her solar, they sing together. They stop singing and begin to... (full context)
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...noble oldness. The King is worried about the Orkney brothers and asks both Guenever and Lancelot to listen as he tells them something that he did wrong: Arthur tells them the... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 5
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...tell you what every person in this court has always known. Queen Guenever is Sir Lancelot's mistress openly." Arthur only looks at the floor. He asks if they are ready to... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 6
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A few weeks later, Lancelot is pacing up and down his room, waiting for the Queen's summons; he knows that... (full context)
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With this, there is a faint scratching on Lancelot's door. Gareth begs him once more not to answer but Lancelot barely acknowledges him. He... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 7
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Guenever is waiting for Lancelot at her room. She is aged, but still resplendent. Lancelot enters and begins to brush... (full context)
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...iron knocking on the door. Agravaine's voice cries: "Open the door, in the King's name." Lancelot realizes he has forgotten his sword and has no armor. He picks up a footstool,... (full context)
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Lancelot takes the knight's sword from behind, pushes him to the floor, bangs him over the... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 8
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...to death. Mordred is with the brothers, with his arm in a sling. It appears Lancelot killed all the knights outside his bedchamber, apart from Mordred. Quietly, the King enters, looking... (full context)
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Mordred announces that Lancelot will try and rescue the Queen; Arthur tells him he has made the guard as... (full context)
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...Gawaine and Arthur turn to watch the Queen's execution from the window. Arthur hopes that Lancelot will come. The Queen is brought out in a white shift; they pray. Suddenly there... (full context)
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...says that it is carnage, and that Gareth and Gaheris are among those slain by Lancelot. They refuse to believe it—Lancelot loved Gareth and besides he would never slay two knights... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 9
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Six months have passed. It is a winter's day at Joyous Guard (Lancelot's castle) and Lancelot and Guenever are standing in the Great Hall. They have been under... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 10
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...unfairness of the pope's forgiveness and about the pageant taking place to grant forgiveness to Lancelot and Guenever. (full context)
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...justice room. The king, tired and somber, enters at the end of the processions. Finally, Lancelot and Guenever enter at their cue: they are dressed in white cloth and the Queen... (full context)
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Lancelot has fifteen days to leave the kingdom. He walks all the way to Dover, from... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 11
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...cold and lonely. The King is away in France with the Army, laying siege to Lancelot. She talks with her lady Agnes about the King's sense of justice and Gawaine's grief... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 12
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...crying in pain while Arthur strokes his head. He has been injured twice now by Lancelot in battle. They talk about England, about what it will be like to return home.... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 13
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In Lancelot's castle, men sit around a bright fire. They are confused as to why the siege... (full context)