Thomas Malory ‘Morte d’Arthur’ ctd.

Arthur gathers his knights and sets out to Joyous Garde, Lancelot’s castle. In the bit not included in the NAEL the pope negotiates the truce – Guinevere goes back to Arthur and Lancelot with his family goes across the Channel to be the King of France. However, Gawain is still hungry for revenge and talks Arthur into invading France. During this war Mordred seizes the throne of England, so Arthur with his army has to go back. During the first battle Gawain is mortally wounded. Before he dies, he repents of what he’s done and writes back to Lancelot to come and help Arthur.

The excerpt opens with Arthur having a dream before the decisive battle with Mordred. In this dream he sees himself richly dressed, sitting on a chair that is fixed to a large wheel. When the wheel turns, he falls down into the mire where he is eaten alive by serpents and other nasty creatures. This is the Wheel of Fortune, a metaphorical figure of which medieval writers were particularly fond. The choir belting out “O Fortuna” at the beginning of Carmina Burana sings exactly about this topic – the fickleness fortune. Arthur cries for help in his sleep and he is woken by his attendants.

He lies awake for a long time, but near dawn he slumbers again and has the second dream, in which the dead Gawain comes to him, accompanied by some beautiful ladies. But not like in a Robert Palmer video – these are the ladies Gawain served and fought for in his lifetime. Gawain tells Arthur that if he goes to battle with Mordred tomorrow, he will surely die and many of his knights too, so he should ask Mordred for truce and wait for Lancelot to arrive within a month. Arthur on waking up sends his two trusted knights, Sir Lucan the Butler and his brother Sir Bedivere the Bold, accompanied by two bishops. After long negotiations both parties agree that Mordred should have Cornwall and Kent now and the whole kingdom after Arthur’s death.

Mordred and Arthur, each accompanied by fourteen knights, are going to meet in the middle of the battlefield to drink wine and seal the truce. However, each of them doesn’t trust the other one an inch, so they tell their respective entourages and armies to attack if they should see any sword taken out. As the bad luck would have it, one of Arthur’s knights is bitten in the foot by an adder and he unthinkingly takes out his sword to kill the snake, after which the whole hell breaks loose. At the end of the day, there are one hundred thousand dead knights left on the ground and Arthur is left with only Lucan and Bedivere, both wounded. (BTW, the number is rather a hyperbole. The battle believed to be the bloodiest one on the British soil was the Battle of Towton, in the War of the Roses, and it involved about 60,000 knights on both sides).

One thing which I don’t understand: Mordred says “I know well my father will be avenged upon me”. I assume that he refers to Arthur, his biological father, not King Lot. But how does he know about his paternity?

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