Arthurian legend - a summary of Le Morte d'Arthur

Caxton's twenty-one books of Sir Thomas Malory's 'Le Morte d'Arthur'

Lugodoc's summary of Book 18 - The Fair Maiden of Astolat

After his return from the Sangreal Quest, Launcelot soon lost the hair shirt and resumed his relations with Guenevere. After more than a quarter of a century of adultery with the queen, it finally seemed as if most people were starting to notice, except, curiously, King Arthur himself.

Afraid of scandal, Launcelot then began avoiding the queen, but she threw a temper and banished him from Camelot. He went to stay with the hermit, Sir Brastias (once a knight of the Duke of Tintagel in the time of King Uther in Book 1), near Windsor, and confided in only his brother, Sir Ector de Maris, and his nephews Sir Bors and Sir Lionel - who had seemingly forgiven his brother for the nude-whipping incident.

To cheer herself up, Queen Guenevere threw a feast in London, for twenty-four of the Round Table knights including all the Orkney Knights. Sir Pinel le Savage secretly tried to poison Sir Gawaine (a known fruit-fancier) with an apple, for having killed his cousin Sir Lamorak de Galis, but mistakenly killed Sir Mador de la Porte's kinsman, Sir Patrise, by mistake.

Mador accused Guenevere of treason and demanded trial by combat, followed by burning at the stake. Arthur instructed Bors to fight for her, but Bors made off to find Launcelot. On the day of the match, Launcelot appeared incognito at the last minute, and after a good fight made Mador take it all back, but got his thighs impaled. Then the Damosel of the Lake, Nimue, arrived and told everyone the truth. Pinel fled the country, and all was forgiven.

To celebrate, Arthur decreed a joust at Camelot to take place fifteen days later, at Assumption, and on his way there (presumably from London) he stayed in his castle at Astolat (now known as Guildford).

Guenevere stayed at home, and Launcelot would have too, but she told him to leave because people were becoming suspicious. Arthur happened to spot him sneaking into the hovel of the old hermit, Baron Sir Bernard of Astolat, to lodge, and guessed his usual plan to joust incognito on the side of the enemy. Bernard lent Launcelot his injured son Sir Tirre's shield as a disguise and said his other son, Sir Lavaine, could ride with him. His daughter, Elaine le Blank, known locally as the Fair Maiden of Astolat, had a huge crush on Launcelot and persuaded him to carry her token at the joust - a red sleeve embroidered with pearls - something he had never done before out of his faithful love for Guenevere.

Three days later at the joust, Arthur kept Gawaine at his side on the scaffold, knowing how many times in the past he had been vanquished by a disguised Launcelot. Kings from all over the British Isles were there, and King Anguish of Ireland and the King of Scots fought with Arthur's knights against the Kings of Northumberland, Northgalis, and of the Hundred Knights.

Launcelot immediately joined in against Arthur's party, and although he succeeded in beating forty Round Table knights, he was dragged off the field by Lavaine with Bors' lance in his side. Lavaine took him to a nearby rich hermit, who fortunately turned out to be another old veteran, Sir Baudwin of Britain, an ex-Round Table knight, and having recognised Launcelot by the scar on his cheek, he staunched his gaping wound.

Concerned, Arthur (the only one who knew) sent Gawaine to look for the mystery knight with the red token and the punctured liver, and although he couldn't find Launcelot at Sir Baudwin's, he did go to Sir Bernard's, where he learned everything, and soon the secret was out. Bors was distraught to find he had nearly killed his uncle, and Guenevere was bitterly furious to find Launcelot was wearing another woman's token.

Meanwhile, Elaine found Launcelot at the hermit's, and took to tending him, followed shortly after by Bors. They nearly had him well, but he relapsed after an ill-advised trot, so he missed the next joust at Hallowmas, which was won by Gawaine and Bors.

When Launcelot was well enough to travel, Elaine begged him to marry (or at least sleep with) her, but he refused, and when he set off for Camelot with Lavaine, she fainted. Everyone was pleased to see Launcelot return, except Queen Guenevere (who hadn't forgiven him for wearing the red sleeve) and the two Orkney Knights, Sir Mordred and Sir Agravaine (who were already plotting trouble).

Ten days later, at Bernard's, Elaine died of a broken heart, and in accordance with her wishes, her family sent her cadaver off down the Thames in a barge, clutching the customary letter of explanation. When it floated past Westminster it was fortunately spotted by Arthur and Guenevere, who happened to be visiting their London seat.

After investigating, a devastated Launcelot buried her richly and paid her mass-penny, as she had requested in the letter. Guenevere forgave him (after reading in the letter about how her rival died a virgin) but forbade him ever to fight in disguise again, and gave him her own sleeve of gold to wear as a token.

The following Christmas, Arthur declared yet another joust for Candelmas, so Launcelot and Lavaine went off on retreat at the hermitage of Launcelot's old friend, Sir Brastias, to prepare themselves. Unfortunately one day, as Launcelot was sleeping by a well, he was accidentally shot in the rear with an arrow by a local huntswoman (who hunted only with other women and bow).

None of this prevented him from attending the joust and, as usual, siding with the enemy so that he could injure as many of his friends and relatives as possible, helped by Lavaine and Sir Gareth, the Orkney Knight he himself dubbed in Book 7, and between the three of them they won the joust.

Back to brief summary of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.

Expanded summaries of Caxton's printed version of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur:
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