So, Arthur has become king, everyone now knows who his parents were and he has proved himself so that is that. Now we get to all the knightly doings and the familiar characters are introduced: Guinevere, Lancelot, Morgan le Fay etc.
Arthur marries Guinevere
The barons want Arthur to marry fairly early on in his reign. He asks Merlin’s advice about this but tells him that he loves Guinevere, daughter of King Lodegreance, lord of the land of Camelard. Merlin rather scathingly tells Arthur he could find Arthur a much better wife and that Guinevere will cause him great anguish – even telling him that Lancelot will fall in love with her and that she will return his love. Arthur doesn’t care (or doesn’t listen) and Merlin takes Arthur’s proposal of marriage to Guinevere’s father. King Lodegreance is delighted and sends Arthur the Round Table, which can seat 150 knights. Arthur and Guinevere are married at the abbey in Winchester.
Merlin and Nyneve
Merlin gets a love interest! Of a kind. He’s obssessed with her, she’s using him to learn magic. Merlin shows her many marvels, including how to talk to the animals and how to still a tempest. He’s constantly scheming to get her into bed, she’s bored with him but, because he’s a son of a devil, he’s hard to get rid of. One day Merlin shows Nyneve a great wonder concealed within a rock and she persuades him to work his way under the bounder but then oh no! she traps him there using a spell he himself had taught her. It’s such a powerful spell that no manner of magic can possibly release him. She goes off happy and he’s stuck there forever. Later Sir Begdemagus hears Merlin wailing under the rock. Merlin tells him not to bother trying to move the rock. “I am doomed to lie here until she relents.”
Rience is the King of North Wales (though sometimes of Ireland and ‘the isles’) and he invades Arthur’s kingdom, laying waste the realm and killing people. He is most notable for his habit of trimming his robe with the beards of eleven kings he has conquered, he wants Arthur’s for a complete twelve. Arthur’s knights Balin and Balan fight against him but the story with him is never really resolved.
Morgan le Fay tries to destroy Arthur
Morgan le Fay hates her half-brother Arthur and keeps trying to steal Excalibur from him. It’s her thing. By now she is married to King Uriens of Gore and mother to Owain, who is one of Arthur’s knights (the relative ages of the various characters are quite beyond me. I think it’s like tv shows where everyone looks between 19-33 even if they are supposed to be grandparents). Morgan le Fay sends a ship across the lake to Arthur. It’s clearly magical: costly, silent, blown along by a wind smelling of violets, unmanned, richly decorated within. Arthur, King Uriens and Sir Accolon of Gaul (Morgan’s lover) go onboard. It’s twilight but suddenly the boat is lit by 100 torches and 12 fair ladies appear lead the men to a table laid with a feast. The men make merry and pass out. When they wake up they have all been taken to different places. Arthur is in a dungeon, Accolon is hanging over the edge of a deep well in peril of falling to his death, but Uriens in his wife Morgan le Fay’s arms in Camelot!
Arthur judges Damas and his nice younger brother Oughtlake. Oughtlake gets all the lands and will give Damas a palfrey every year as only a true knight can be carried on a proper horse. Damas has to compensate everyone.Morgan tries to kill her husband Uriens but is stopped by her son. She hears that Accolon has died and Arthur has his sword again and knows she has to get away quickly. She begs permission from Guinevere to leave court, lying about the reason. She goes to where Arthur is recuperating and manages to steal his scabbard AGAIN. Arthur’s knights chase after her and she flings the scabbard into a lake. Then Morgan turns herself and her men into stones so they can evade capture.Shortly after this she meets a knight who is taking a tied-up knight to a fountain to drown him for sleeping with his wife. This knight turns out to be Accolon’s cousin so Morgan frees him and lets him drown the other man. (More of those charming practical jokes.) She sends him back to Arthur’s court with a threat of more trouble in the future.
Malory doesn’t go into detail about Lancelot’s early years or how he comes, as a Frenchman, to be one of Arthur’s knights, though a large section of the book is devoted to his adventures. But as this is about Arthur’s milestones, I’ll skip over Lancelot for the moment. He gets his shirt off a lot, that’s about it. His relationship with Guinevere doesn’t become a big deal until later.Arthur and Tristram
I will also leave out the story of Tristram and Yseult as it isn’t really a milestone for Arthur. Tristram does get dragged into the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle of doom at one point though, poor sap. One day Arthur’s knights are having a tournament against the knights of the Kings of Scotland and Ireland. Tristram joins in and he’s carrying a shield that Morgan le Fay had given him (for a laugh, no doubt). He does very well. Arthur can’t make out the meaning of the picture on his shield, though Guinevere does and is a bit glum about it. The picture shows Arthur and Guinevere with a knight standing over them, one foot on each head. It’s fairly obvious that this is Lancelot. Morgan’s servant tells Arthur privately that it is a reminder of the shame and dishonour due to Arthur because of Lancelot and Guinevere. Guinevere fears for her life. Arthur wants to try himself against Tristram and get some resolution about the shield’s message that way (rather than actually deal with his wife and best friend’s affair). Tristram is fed up as he has already fought a lot and tells Arthur everything he can – but not his name. They still fight and Tristram wins easily. Arthur really isn’t very good at this stuff. In case you haven’t worked this out, this is because most of these stories were made up by French poets, who didn’t much feel like glorifying a British king. Lancelot du Lac, on the other hand, is utterly French, which is why for most of the time he’s the Number One Knight.
The next installment will deal with the Holy Grail. I’m not going to go into depth following the adventures of the knights who go after it but instead focus on the Grail’s first appearance, which is a massive milestone for Arthur, though sadly not in a good way.