Chapter 1 After these quests, Merlin falls in love with one of the ladies of the lake, Nimue. He follows her everywhere, and she entertains him as she learns magic from him. Meanwhile, Merlin continues to tell Arthur what will happen, including that Merlin himself will not long be with him. Arthur says that since Merlin knows what will happen, he should work to prevent it, but Merlin says that won’t happen.
In this scene, the tragedy of Merlin’s limited omniscience comes into clear focus. Merlin may know exactly what awaits him—at least he seems to know that his downfall is approaching—but he cannot seem to act against it, just as Arthur will be unable to undo his ultimate fate.
Nimue makes Merlin swear that he’ll never enchant her with his magic, and he does so. Merlin travels with her to the land of Benwick, where he speaks to King Ban and his wife Elaine, as well as his son Launcelot. Merlin foretells that Launcelot will take revenge against King Claudas (who had warred against Ban previously) and will be the greatest knight in the land. Then Merlin departs with Nimue. Nimue slowly grows tired of Merlin, but she’s afraid since he is a “devil’s son.” One day Merlin shows Nimue an enchanted cave. She tricks him into entering the cave, uses his own magic to trap him inside, and leaves him.
As Merlin follows Nimue around, trapped by the binds of love that seem even more powerful than magic, he continues to foretell the future, preparing the way for many of the tales that will follow in this book. We are also reminded here that Merlin’s magic has an uncertain status: he can use it for good, and he has a relationship with the Christian Bishop, but it’s also suspected that his magic (as all non-Christian magic is, according to the Church) is related to the devil.
Chapter 2 As Arthur is preparing a great feast in Camelot, he learns that five kings are preparing war against him. He laments that he hasn’t had one month’s rest since he was made king. Arthur writes to Pellinore and asks him to prepare his men. The next day he leaves with Guenever for a forest near Humber. An enemy knight counsels the five kings to be quick in making war, since the longer they wait the stronger Arthur grows.
Arthur’s lament is an understatement: only in the quest of the hart and brachet have we had an interlude between a more serious kind of competition in the form of inter-kingdom wars. But now Arthur has developed strong alliances, including with Pellinore, which will surely aid him.
Chapter 3 The five kings agree and slip towards the forest by night, as Arthur and his men lie unarmed, thinking they are safe. But someone betrays their location, and a wounded knight slips into Arthur and Guenever’s pavilion and tells them to flee, for many have been killed already. They ride towards Humber and reach a large river, wondering whether to risk death by crossing it. Meanwhile, Sir Kay, Gawaine, and Griflet see the five kings riding towards them with spears, and though they are three against five, they decide to ride and meet them. Kay kills one, Gawaine another, and then Arthur joins and kills a third: Griflet kills the fourth and Kay the fifth. They place Guenever in a barge to cross the river for Humber, and ride into the forest to tell their men that the five kings are dead. They decide to wait until daylight in order to conquer the rest, who will be confused and weakened by the kings’ deaths. Arthur and his knights kill 30,000 men the next day, and after the battle Arthur thanks God and sends for his queen.
Although the entire Arthurian society is structured around values of honor and chivalry, its characters also have to remain on constant guard against dishonorable behavior by those who cannot hope to conquer them by remaining within the bounds of honor. This shameful act of refusing to do battle honestly and face-to-face is contrasted to the bravery of Kay, Gawaine, and Griflet, who decide to fight even though the numbers are against them, and whose rescue of Guenever should be considered especially worthy of praise within this framework. One lesson seems to be that dishonor rarely pays off in the end, as Arthur and his men deal a devastating blow to their enemies.
Chapter 4 King Pellinore finally arrives and learns of the victory. They celebrate and Arthur founds the Abbey of La Beale Adventure on the site of the battle. But the inhabitants of the five kings’ lands are upset and angry, so Arthur quickly returns to Camelot and asks Pellinore for advice on replacing the eight knights of the Round Table who were killed in battle. Pellinore recommends Gawaine, Griflet, and Kay.
Though Pellinore has arrived too late, Arthur knows that he is still a proper ally and worthy of giving Arthur advice. The workings of the Round Table are also clarified for us here: there are seemingly a limited number of seats, and so new knights can be added only when there are “vacancies.”
Chapter 5 For the fourth knight, Pellinore says that Arthur should choose between his son Sir Tor and Sir Bagdemagus. He doesn’t want to be biased, but Arthur believes that Tor has proved himself, so he will choose him for now. Bagdemagus, greatly angry, leaves court with a squire. He prays before a cross in the forest and then finds written upon it that he will not return to court until he has won the body of a knight of the Round Table. The squire tells Bagdemagus he should return straightaway, but Bagdemagus says he must seek out this adventure.
Bagdemagus seems to believe that Arthur has, in fact, been biased in preferring the son of his friend and ally over another knight. However, Bagdemagus seems at least somewhat less inclined to immediate revenge and jealousy than other knights we’ve seen, as he goes into the forest alone to pray instead of immediately starting a fight. It is not clear if this writing is a commandment or a prophecy.
Bagdemagus rides out and comes across the cave where Merlin is trapped. He tries to lift up the stone but cannot, and Merlin tells him to leave, since it’s in vain. Bagdemagus departs and does a number of adventures (not described), proving himself as a knight before he returns and joins the Round Table.
Bagdemagus is witness to Merlin’s tragic end, as he has been trapped here by Nimue with his own magic. Merlin can also still seemingly foresee the future, so he knows that he will never escape. We don’t learn how Bagdemagus won against a Round Table knight, but only that he’s proved himself somehow worthy.
Chapter 6 Arthur, Uriens, and Sir Accolon of Gaul begin a hunt after a great hart. Their horses grow exhausted so they kill them and continue on foot, growing weary themselves. Finally they find the hart resting by a waterbank, and Arthur kills it. He sees a small ship in the river. The ship is empty but hung in rich silk. Suddenly twelve beautiful damsels emerge and a hundred torches on the ship’s sides light up. The damsels call Arthur by name and welcome him, serving the three men delicious food and leading them to beautiful bedchambers.
In periods of calm between great battles, other warlike activities come to take their place. Here, hunting is a way for Arthur to prove his prowess as a knight without risking his own life in a real war. Though Arthur easily kills the hart, he is entirely vulnerable to the wiles of beautiful women, following them without questioning who they are or why they’re there.
The next day Uriens awakens next to his wife (Morgan le Fay) in Camelot, though they were two days away; Arthur awakens in a dark prison cell.
This story is yet another example of women’s power and trickery over men in the book.
Chapter 7 Arthur hears mournful clamor around him, and the other prisoners tell him they have been kept here for years by Sir Damas, a false, treasonous knight who is jealous of his younger brother Sir Ontzlake, a successful knight. Damas cannot get any knight to fight for him willingly, so he has trapped a number of them in this prison, though they continue to refuse to fight for him.
The other prisoners here, like Arthur now, have been caught between a brothers’ feud. Fights between family members seem, in this book, to be particularly vehement. For the knights, it’s the very character of Damas (or lack thereof) that makes it a principle for them not to fight for him.
A damsel comes to tell Arthur (who is not recognized as the king) that he will be delivered from prison if he fights for Damas. Arthur agrees, and says he recognizes the damsel from Arthur’s court. She denies it, though in reality she is one of Morgan le Fay’s damsels. Damas sends for Arthur, and agrees to free the other knights if Arthur fights for him, All twenty knights are brought out of the prison to see the battle.
It seems that Arthur is somehow exempt from the other knights’ decision not to fight for the “treacherous” knight Damas. Once again there is a case of mistaken identity, as no one recognizes Arthur as the king, and Arthur doesn’t recognize the damsel.
Chapter 8 Sir Accolon, meanwhile, awakens by a deep well, close to his death. He realizes that the ship’s damsels have betrayed them. A dwarf arrives sent from Morgan le Fay (Accolon’s lover), saying that she has sent Accolon Excalibur, Arthur’s sword, along with its magical scabbard, with which to fight against a knight the next day. The dwarf says Morgan asks Accolon to do battle tomorrow without any mercy, and that the damsel who brings Morgan the head of the knight whom Accolon fights against will be made queen. Accolon agrees to do this.
Sir Accolon, too, realizes that he and Arthur have been tricked by the women that they so guilelessly followed into the ship. Luckily, Accolon does not seem in such dire straits as Arthur, especially now that his lover Morgan has equipped him with the scabbard (as we’re meant to remember, this is the scabbard Morgan told Arthur she would take care of, and put into safekeeping).
Sir Damas tells his brother Sir Ontzlake to prepare for battle with a good knight. Sir Ontzlake is a little wounded. Morgan le Fay has made Accolon lodge with Ontzlake, so he volunteers to fight for him. The next day Arthur mounts on horseback, and a damsel from Morgan sends him a likeness of his sword and scabbard, which he believes is real.
Now it becomes clear just to what extent Morgan le Fay has planned and plotted this entire scheme—making it so that Accolon and Arthur will unknowingly fight each other, and that Accolon will certainly have the upper hand. Morgan le Fay is perhaps the best example of a woman taking power and manipulating even kings themselves through trickery, “sorcery,” and seduction. She is portrayed as a negative character, but the agency she finds is admirable in a world where women are supposed to be powerless.
Chapter 9 The two men fight strenuously against each other. Nimue, who had enchanted Merlin arrives for love of Arthur and to save his life through her magic. Arthur, seeing the blood-splotched ground, realizes that his sword has been changed and that Accolon’s sword must be Excalibur. Arthur loses a great deal of blood, but Accolon doesn’t, though all marvel at Arthur’s continued valiance.
Arthur had been told by Merlin that his scabbard would prevent him from ever losing blood, so he realizes the treachery pretty early on. While in another context Nimue has been portrayed as a trickster, here she is considered a loyal subject of Arthur.
Chapter 10 Finally Arthur’s sword breaks, and Accolon cries that his enemy is overcome and must yield to him. Arthur refuses, since he says he must die with honor rather than yield. Accolon strikes him, but Arthur presses his shield against him and strikes him with the handle of his broken sword. At the next strike, by the Lady of the Lake’s enchantment, Accolon’s sword falls to the ground. Arthur leaps and grabs it, rushing upon him and striking Accolon on the head. Accolon invites Arthur to kill him rather than have mercy, for he sees how strong a knight he is. Suddenly, Arthur thinks he recognizes him, and asks his name. When Accolon reveals himself, Arthur is dismayed and asks him how he got this sword.
When one knight conquers another, the conquered one can either “yield” and ask for mercy, or refuse this mercy and die—which is always considered the more honorable choice (though it is also considered more honorable for the conquering knight to grant mercy). Just as Morgan had done all she could to ensure that her lover would triumph, here another lady, Nimue, uses her own powers of enchantment on the side of Arthur, leading to their identities being revealed.
Chapter 11 Accolon says he got it from Morgan le Fay to kill King Arthur, her brother, since she hates him and loves Accolon, and wants to kill her husband Uriens and make Accolon king. Arthur reveals who he is: Accolon cries for mercy, and Arthur agrees, though he says Accolon is a traitor, even if Morgan le Fay bewitched him. They gather the observers around and Accolon reveals that the knight is Arthur.
Little by little Morgan’s treachery is revealed—though a woman, and lacking concrete political power, she has been able to hoodwink both these powerful men. Still, Arthur has grasped that Accolon probably knew Morgan was up to no good, and still sought glory through her anyway.
Chapter 12 All kneel and ask for mercy from Arthur, who grants it, though he asks for a little rest. He orders Sir Damas, since he is a villainous, proud knight, to give his brother Sir Ontzlake the manor, and orders him never to capture any other knights. Arthur tells Ontzlake to come to his court to become one of his knights. Ontzlake says he would if he were not wounded. Arthur shares that he has also been wounded, and Ontzlake says there is a rich abbey nearby. The men go there to rest. Accolon has bled so much that he dies within four days. Arthur sends Accolon’s body to Morgan le Fay, telling messengers that he sends it as a present.
This story of treachery and betrayal begins to draw to an end, as Arthur regains his royal power by commanding knights under him to obey his will, basing his judgment on the perceived characters of Damas and Ontzlake. Although Arthur has forgiven Accolon—the proper action for a worthy knight—Accolon is still ultimately punished for his treachery by dying of his wounds. Arthur’s sole show of spite is in his sending of Accolon’s body to Morgan.
Chapter 13 Morgan believes Arthur is dead, so she prepares to kill Uriens in his sleep. She tells her maiden to fetch his sword, but the maiden instead goes to Sir Uwaine, Morgan and Uriens’s son, and tells him what is about to happen. The maiden then brings the sword to Morgan as per her instructions, but as Morgan lifts the sword to kill the sleeping Uriens, Uwaine leaps onto her and stops her. Morgan asks for mercy, saying she was tempted by a devil. Uwaine spares her, on the condition that she not do anything like this again.
Meanwhile, Morgan begins to put into action the rest of her plan to switch husbands and gain power over her brother Arthur. Uwaine’s action of pardoning his murderous mother foreshadows a similar scene with Tristram—both show the young knights’ virtue, and reinforce the idea of women as treacherous.
Chapter 14 Later Morgan sees Accolon’s body, which is brought to a church, and though she feigns nonchalance she is actually in great mourning. Morgan asks Guenever permission to leave on a ride, and she goes in search of Arthur, thinking to steal away his sword. Morgan finds him asleep with Excalibur in his hand, so she only manages to steal the scabbard. When Arthur awakes his servants say that Morgan has been there, and that they could not disobey her commands.
Morgan begins to realize that her grand plan is unraveling: since Accolon is dead, his sword and scabbard that she gave to him must have been stolen away. Again, Morgan is able to as least temporarily trick men like Arthur obliquely, if not in direct battle like men face each other. Even the servants are too afraid of her to forbid her anything, or else she has enchanted them with her “sorcery.”
Arthur arms himself and Sir Ontzlake and they ride out in search of Morgan. Arthur catches sight of her and chases her, but she comes upon a lake and throws the scabbard into the water. Then she enchants herself and turns into a great marble stone, so that Arthur cannot find her or the scabbard. He departs, and then Morgan turns herself back into a human.
This story bears a striking resemblance to the Greek myth of Apollo and Daphne, in which the god chases Daphne, who ultimately transforms into a tree to save herself. In this case Arthur isn’t pursuing his sister out of lust, but rather to punish her for her treachery, but the motif is the same.
Chapter 15 Morgan rides on away from Arthur, and encounters one knight about to lead another bound hand and foot to drown in a fountain. The man found this knight with his wife, but when Morgan asks the culprit about it, he says it’s not true. He says he is Manassen of Arthur’s court, Accolon’s cousin. Morgan says she will save him, and she binds the other man, upon which Manassen drowns him in the fountain. Manassen asks if she has a message for Arthur. She says to tell him that she saved Manassen out of love for Accolon, not Arthur, and that she doesn’t fear Arthur as long as she can turn herself into a stone—and she can do many other things besides.
Having once again slipped out of Arthur’s grasp, Morgan encounters other adventurers. At first, she seems to act here as a loyal member of Arthur’s court, preventing another member of his court from dying shamefully. Only afterward do we learn that Morgan’s seemingly kindly actions were a result of her love for Accolon, and her bitterness over his death. Morgan here makes a direct statement challenging Arthur’s power and affirming her own—an important moment in the book.
Arthur rides to Camelot, where everyone marvels at Morgan’s treachery. When Manassen returns and tells Arthur the story, he swears to be avenged on Morgan. The next day a lady brings a beautiful mantle from Morgan to the king, saying it is a gift to make amends. Arthur is pleased, but says little.
Now the rest of the court knows just to what extent Morgan will go to make sure her will is achieved, even at the expense of family ties. Arthur seems optimistic but wary of this gift.
Chapter 16 Nimue comes to Arthur and tells him not to put the mantle on until he commands the messenger to put it on herself. Arthur does so, and the messenger falls down dead and burns to a crisp. The king is furious, and tells Uriens (Morgan’s wife) that he will have to expel their son Uwaine: he trusts Uriens, since Morgan wanted to kill him, but he’s still suspicious of Uwaine, who might be allied with his mother. But Gawaine says that since his cousin Uwaine is expelled from the court, he will leave too, and the two ride away together. Arthur and all his court mourn the loss of these two knights. Meanwhile Uwaine and Gawaine come to a place where there is a white shield hanging on a tree, and twelve damsels go back and forth, spitting and throw mud at it.
Once again, Nimue reveals her feelings for Arthur by saving his life—a life, of course, that is considered far more valuable than that of the messenger who is sacrificed in order to prove Morgan’s treachery. Now Arthur is faced with some complicated choices, since many people in court seem to be in some way related to Morgan—including himself—and yet it is difficult to tell who is loyal to whom. For Gawaine, for instance, loyalty to Arthur might be an obvious necessity, but loyalty to his cousin trumps it.
Chapter 17 Gawaine and Uwaine ask why the damsels are doing this to the shield, and they say it is because the owner, Marhaus, hates all women. Uwaine has seen him joust and knows he is a good knight, and they do not want to see his shield dishonored. Then Marhaus comes riding up and the damsels all flee into a tower. Two knights leave the tower to fight Marhaus, but he kills them both.
Gawaine and Uwaine are immediately suspicious of the women, not because they know anything about Marhaus’s relationship to women, but simply because they’ve seen him fight—a telling example of the way battle prowess stands in for general character virtue in the book. No knight who fights so well could also be wicked.
Chapter 18 Marhaus asks Gawaine and Uwaine what they’re doing there, and they say they’ve come to seek adventures. Marhaus is willing to join any adventure they propose. Gawaine suggests they joust together. Marhaus and Gawaine joust all afternoon, but finally Gawaine’s strength wanes and he surrenders. The knights swear to love each other as brothers.
Here, jousting is less a way for one knight to triumph over another than for knights to play a game, like hunting (yet sometimes these jousts end in death for one of the knights). Fighting is in this case a prerequisite to swearing loyalty, now that all parties respect each other’s prowess. This kind of scene is repeated numerous times in the book, and it seems entirely foreign and even humorous from a modern perspective.
Marhaus says that the damsels are wrong to say he hates women: he only hates those women, since they are enchanters and bewitchers. The knights ride together to Marhaus’s estate and lodge there for the night. Marhaus then leads them for a week until they reach the forest of Arroy, a country where strange adventures are to be found. They see a stream of water and a fountain with three ladies sitting nearby. The eldest has a gold garland and white hair—she’s at least 60. The second is 30 and the third 15. The ladies say they sit here in order to involve any passing knights in adventures. Each one should choose a lady and they will each lead the men to three highways, until after a year they should meet here again.
In the context of this story, Marhaus’s explanation for why the women hate him is meant to be perfectly justifiable (though modern readers might question whether or not there is more to the story of the women’s “enchantments”). However, Marhaus, Gawaine, and Uwaine are now as good as brothers as they ride out seeking new adventures. This quest seems to have little purpose other than to allow the knights to fulfill their desire for adventure—but in the world of Malory’s tale, there are always “damsels in distress” in need of an errant knight.
Chapter 19 Uwaine, as the youngest and weakest chooses the eldest lady, since he believes her to be wise. Marhaus chooses the middle woman, and Gawaine thanks him for leaving him the youngest and most beautiful. Uwaine goes west, Marhaus south, and Gawaine north. Gawaine rides until he comes to a manor housing an old knight. Together they ride into the forest until they find a cross, next to which is a handsome knight in great distress. Gawaine wishes him honor and glory, but the knight says that for him, sorrow and shame come after glory.
These choices map onto the general ways women are considered, with beauty ranked the highest, but with age and wisdom also greatly respected. The three directions taken by the knights represent their differing destinies for the course of the next year. Crosses tend to be scattered throughout these forest haunts, in many cases revealing possible adventures for knights that pass that way.
Chapter 20 Gawaine then sees ten knights preparing to fight against the one knight. He fights valiantly but is finally bound by the ten. The damsel with Gawaine says that he should help the knight. They then catch sight of another knight fully armed coming from one side, and from another side comes an armed dwarf. Both are meeting the same lady in the wood, and they begin to fight over her. The knight and the dwarf then decide to ask Gawaine, who’s watching, which one he thinks is more worthy. Gawaine tells the damsel to decide, and she chooses the dwarf.
While Gawaine begins by simply witnessing the fight, duties of chivalry—as well as prodding by Gawaine’s companion—convince him to enter the fray. But he’s soon distracted by yet another strange battle. The forest, in the book, is a place ostensibly meant for contemplation but actually packed with activity and competition, a true jackpot for a knight seeking adventure.
Two armed knights then come shouting to Gawaine to joust with them. While he fights with one, the other asks the damsel to follow him rather than Gawaine. Gawaine and the knight end in a draw, and the knight invites Gawaine to lodge with him that night. On the way, Gawaine asks who the distressed knight who was fighting the ten others is. The knight says it’s Sir Pelleas, who loves a lady named Ettard. Pelleas was the best knight at a recent joust, and so won the prize of a gold circlet, which he gave to Ettard.
Yet another group of jousting knights enters here, such that it becomes difficult to distinguish all the different fights taking place. However, Gawaine’s new host begins to fill in the gaps for him, sharing a classic story of the love of a knight for a lady—a story that is, as is often the case, closely tied to the prowess of a knight on the battlefield.
Chapter 21 Pelleas chose Ettard as his wife, but she was proud and said she’d never love him. But Pelleas vowed to follow Ettard until she did. So every week, lodged in a priory, she sends knights to fight Pelleas, bind him up, and bring him to her, all in an attempt to shame him and make him leave her. Gawaine says he will help Pelleas. In the morning he rides out, and Pelleas confides that he still believes Ettard will have pity on him. Gawaine swears to do all in his power to get him his lady’s love. Gawaine says he will ride to Ettard’s castle and say that he’s slain Pelleas: he’ll then find a way for Pelleas to gain her love.
For these knights, it does not matter too much that Ettard is not interested in Pelleas: Gawaine is happy to help him win her over, considering her love as another prize to be won through jousting success. Ettard is portrayed as simultaneously alluring, clever, and deceitful—in another situation, such an act of shaming would make a knight want to kill the perpetrator in revenge, but Pelleas continues to love her.
Chapter 22 Gawaine comes to Ettard’s castle and declares that he’s killed Pelleas. He identifies himself as a member of King Arthur’s court. Ettard says that this is a pity since Pelleas was a good knight, but she never loved him or could get rid of him. She offers herself to Gawaine now, but he says he loves another lady who doesn’t love him. Gawaine asks Ettard to do all she can to earn his lady’s love, and she promises.
Gawaine begins a tale not necessarily of mistaken identity, but certainly of trickery, as he plots a way to get Ettard together with Pelleas. The virtue of honesty and honor in this culture coexists, as we continue to see, alongside a fascination with deceiving others.
Gawaine and Ettard sleep together in a pavilion outside the castle. On the third day, Pelleas arms himself, according to their plan, and comes to the pavilion, where he sees Gawaine lying in bed with Ettard. He bemoans Gawaine’s treachery, but he says that he can’t, as a true knight, kill the two when they are sleeping. Pelleas tries to leave, though he goes back and forth several times. Finally he lays his sword over their throats and rides away. He returns to his knights and tells them he’ll never get out of bed until he dies. He tells his knights that when he dies, they should bring Ettard his heart on a platter and tell her that he saw her lie with Gawaine.
It is not entirely clear throughout this story exactly what the plan between Pelleas and Gawaine was: what is clear is that Pelleas was not suspecting to find Gawaine asleep with Ettard, when he believed his friend was supposed to help him conquer Ettard’s heart. Still, Pelleas shows more mercy than Gawaine did when he accidentally cut off a lady’s head, even if Pelleas is now doomed to what seems like endless grief.
When Ettard awakes she realizes it’s Pelleas’s sword on her throat, and she says to Gawaine that he’s betrayed both Pelleas and herself. Gawaine departs and goes into the forest. Meanwhile the Lady of the Lake, Nimue, meets a knight of Pelleas, who tells her that his master has been betrayed. Nimue tells the knight to bring Pelleas to her so that he might not die for love, and so that Ettard may be punished for her pride. Nimue brings the Lady Ettard to Pelleas, whom she has enchanted into sleep, and Nimue enchants Ettard into loving him. Pelleas awakens and looks at Ettard, and angrily tells her to go away and never come into his sight. Ettard weeps and is sorrowful.
Nimue enters here no longer as someone who loves Arthur and will complete any number of enchantments (learned, we recall, from Merlin) to save him. At first it seems that she is simply taking pity on Pelleas, and is righteously angry at Ettard, who is considered “proud” and lacking virtue for failing to love Pelleas back. Still, it is meant to be satisfying comeuppance when we see that Ettard is now suffering just what Pelleas suffered for love of her.
Chapter 23 Nimue tells Pelleas to accompany her out of this country. He tells her the whole story and thanks her. Ettard dies of sorrow, and Nimue and Pelleas love each other for the rest of their lives.
Though perhaps jarring to a modern ear, this ending is meant to show how people’s virtue or vice ultimately leads to “just” and proper results.
Chapter 24 Marhaus, meanwhile, rides south into a forest and reaches a lodge, where the porter says the knight and the damsel need to fulfill an adventure in order to be lodged there. Marhaus says they only want rest, and the porter brings them in with torchlight, where they’re welcomed by many men and a Duke in the hall. When Marhaus says who he is, the Duke of South Marches says that he is no friend of the Round Table, and he with his six sons will fight Marhaus together, in revenge for Gawaine once killing seven sons of his. Marhaus and the damsel rest that night and then prepare to battle the next day.
Marhaus’s adventure, in turn, returns to the register of the battlefield rather than of courtly love. Usually, knights on quests must rely on hospitality as they venture through unknown lands. Here, this hospitality and the rest accompanying it are thwarted, when the Duke learns of Marhaus’s identity. It would seem that the Duke’s threat of a seven-against-one fight is dishonorable, but at the same time the Duke waits until the next day to allow Marhaus to rest up.
Chapter 25 Marhaus defends himself against several of the sons, and finally strikes the Duke of South Marches to the ground. Marhaus tells him to surrender or he’ll kill him. The Duke tells his sons to yield, and they kneel down to Marhaus, and promise not to be enemies of Arthur.
Here is another example of one option when one knight conquers another: the losing knight must pledge allegiance to the conqueror’s master, in this case Arthur.
Marhaus rides on and his damsel brings him to a great tournament, where Marhaus wins and is awarded a golden circlet. Then the damsel brings him to the castle of Earl Fergus, who tells Marhaus that a giant named Taulas is destroying all his lands. Marhaus vows to fight him on foot. He cuts off the giant’s right arm and then the giant flees. Marhaus hurls stones at the giant to kill him, and then delivers 24 ladies and 12 knights out of the giant’s prison. He stays with Earl Fergus for half a year to recover from the battle.
The damsel seems to know exactly where to lead Marhaus so that he can meet with great adventures and prove his own glory and knightly skill. Fighting giants is a particularly powerful achievement, given the disparity in strength and power between a giant and a normal knight, so Marhaus is portrayed as an even more glorious knight as a result.
Chapter 26 We now turn to Uwaine, whose damsel brings him to a tournament in Wales, where he is given the prize of a gerfalcon (a large bird of prey). Among his many adventures, Uwaine is brought by the damsel to the Lady of the Rock. Two brothers, Sir Edward of the Red Castle and Sir Hue of the Red Castle, had disinherited the Lady of many lands. Uwaine says this is against the order of knighthood, so he will speak to them. But they refuse to yield, and they say they will battle him two against one.
After the long saga of Gawaine, both Marhaus and Uwaine seem to have a much easier time gaining the glory and honor due to them by following the code of chivalry, which here involves protecting ladies that they may find along the way. Instead of yielding, the knights choose the option of fighting to the death—perhaps the more honorable one.
Chapter 27 Uwaine fights against Sir Hue and Sir Edward, each wounding the other, for over five hours. Finally he kills Sir Edward, and Sir Hue yields. Uwaine restores the lands to the Lady of the Rock, and sends Sir Hue to Arthur’s court. Uwaine recovers at the castle for half a year, and then meets Marhaus and Gawaine at the crossway as had been promised.
Although both brothers had vowed to fight rather than yield, it is not too uncommon in these stories to see knights’ courage waver once they realize just how close to death they can come—something all three of Arthur’s knights have witnessed.
Chapter 28 After they meet again, the three knights ride through a forest and meet with a messenger of King Arthur, who wants to bring Gawaine and Uwaine back to court. They arrive at Camelot with Marhaus, where they share all their adventures. For Pentecost Nimue brings Sir Pelleas with her. Pelleas gets the prize at the annual jousting, followed by Marhaus. The two are both made knights of the Round Table, since two knights had been killed that year. Much later, Sir Tristram would fight against Sir Marhaus on an island, and Marhaus would be killed. Pelleas would be one of the four to achieve the Sangreal, and the Lady of the Lake would make it so that he never had to fight against Sir Launcelot.
The tale of the adventure of the three knights, Gawaine, Uwaine, and Marhaus, comes to a close, as it seems that Arthur has forgiven Uwaine for any potential treachery related to his mother, Morgan le Fay, or at least has accepted Uwaine’s innocence in the matter. Pentecost, as we’ve learned, is the time of the year when all knights return to court to relate the stories of their adventures, and for Arthur to replenish the Round Table after having inevitably lost knights due to battles over the course of the year. Once again Malory steps back here and summarizes some future events of his tale (although Pelleas doesn’t really appear again, and certainly isn’t mentioned as a part of the Sangreal quest).