THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXVII: Agravain
Two of Morgause and Lot’s sons, Gawain and Gareth, were among the greatest of the Knights of the Round Table. A third son, Gaheris, while not of their class on the battlefield or in the lists, was warm and gentle, much beloved by all.
And then there was Agravain. Too lazy to train yet resentful that he wasn’t as good as the other knights, loud and opinionated when he should have just kept quiet. Agravain became the ringleader of the ‘Young Companions,’ those who had joined at the tail end of the Saxon Wars or even later and thus spent most of their knightly careers looking for adventure—or trouble—rather than saving Britain or doing good in the name of the king.
One night, out looking for a prank, Agravain slipped into Arthur’s Great Hall and stole The Grail. The whole story that follows would make a good musical comedy from the 40s (an oxymoron if I ever heard one). I’ll let her tell this part, since she was there for the whole sordid affair.
As he slunk out of the hall, Agravain happened upon half a dozen of the Young Companions looking to extend an evening of carousing.
“Hey, boys. Let’s go toss down a few. Look here, I’ve got myself a brand new cup to drink out of.”
“Whoa, Ag. That’s the Holy-fucking-Grail. There are a few assholes that are pretty protective of that chunk of metal. You’d better put it back.”
“Nah. It looked so lonely sitting there all alone in the dark. I for one think it deserves a night out on the town, too.”
I might have done my ‘Agravain, this is the Lord’ bit and talked him into putting me back. But I was bored, and a night out on the town actually sounded pretty good. So I kept quiet.
A couple of rounds later, the Young Companions began to badmouth the Old Fogies. I could tell this was a pretty standard ritual when they were drinking. Soon they were swapping outrageous lies, each trying to outdo the others.
“Don’t that sanctimonious Lance-a-little just make you want to puke?” Agravain slurred. Lancelot was no favorite among the party set, but Agravain was particularly jealous of his fame. “Him and his holier than thou attitude, just because his head is made of iron and can take a sword cut without any damage. Thinks winning all those tournaments entitles him to liberties with the queen.”
That perked up ears. I’ll admit it wasn’t all that much as far as oratory goes, but like Jesus back in the early days, Agravain hadn’t given me a lot to work with. And besides, I’d become a little uneasy with the direction of the conversation and was trying not to help. But once again it didn’t matter. I’d allowed the former Sir Turquin to convince a couple of those same knights to leave Orkney, and this tale was a lot easier to sell because it was the sort of prurient rumor they wanted to believe.
“Lancelot’s boffin’ the queen?” Sir Cedrick asked.
“Oh, bullshit!” Sir Kenneth exclaimed. “You’re making it all up. Lancelot might be a fag with the ego of the Pope and the intellect of a turnip who thinks whetting his sword is more exciting entertainment than ‘wetting his dagger’ on a Saturday night. But he’s sure as shit not fucking the queen. Hell, he’s probably too stupid to know she’s hot. For an older woman.” Sir Kenneth was clever but hadn’t been raised in the courtly tradition of a mild tongue.
“Shows how much you know,” Agravain spat out. “If you weren’t so blind you could see he can’t keep his paws off her anytime he thinks nobody’s watching. Why just the other day I saw him run his hand up under her skirt while they were standing at the parapet watching the king ride out falconing.”
“By Mithras, that’s high treason. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because he’d challenge me to defend The Queen’s honor, and he wouldn’t be wielding a padded stick. Hell, he can do anything he wants if I’ve got to stop him myself”
“I’m not afraid of him.”
“Well, I sure as hell am. I’m afraid of anyone who’s too stupid to care whether they live or die.”
“That really pisses me off. We ought to do something before the king gets back from his hunting trip. Strike a blow for justice, get rid of Lancelot, and impress the king, all at the same time.”
“The king’s out of the castle tonight, you say? Then I’ll bet the oh-so-noble Lancelot is fucking her right this minute. If we strike now, we might even be able to catch him with his pants down and his short sword at half mast.”
“I’m not drunk enough to get into it with Lancelot.”
“I know how to fix that. Hey, wench! Another pitcher here!”
So what had started as casual banter became a point of honor to Agravain, and he refused to let it go. And he and I managed to convince a bunch of basically level-headed men who should have known better, even in their current state of inebriation, to try to catch Lancelot in the act and clap him in chains. Finally they worked themselves up to the point where there was no turning back. They donned their mail shirts, grabbed swords, and trooped over to Lancelot’s chambers, where they promptly smashed in his door to confront him.
There was a woman in his room, although there was no way to tell from the doorway if it was Guinevere. However, in the dim light, when Agravain shouted, “It’s the queen! Kill the traitor!” no one took time to question the veracity of his accusation.
At seven to one odds, armed and armored against a naked man, they might have pulled it off if they’d been sober. But Lancelot was the best knight in the world, and with his temper up and Camelot’s strong ale as an ally, the Young Companions never had a chance. Snatching up the sleeping furs from his bed, Lancelot slung them at the head of the first man, ducked under a wild swing, and smashed him in the throat. Catching the sword before it hit the ground he parried a blow from another, continuing his stroke so that the blade severed the tendons of the man’s hand, ending his fighting career in a single blow. A third assailant took the dancing blade in the throat and dropped like a stone, spewing blood across the floor. The living, finally showing the first wisdom they had exhibited since meeting up with Agravain hours before, turned and fled for their lives while Lancelot stood naked, bloody sword in hand, calling them sniveling cowards and bellowing for them to come back and finish what they’d started.
Somewhere along the way Agravain pitched me into the bushes, where I was found the next morning.
The dead man turned out to be Gaheris, guilty of nothing more than having a drink with his brother.
Agravain swore to Arthur that Guinevere had been in Lancelot’s room; the rest of the knights, who’d been convinced by his shout and my unwilling assistance, confirmed his accusation. Against their word was only that of Lancelot and Guinevere since Lancelot was too chivalrous, or too stubborn, to reveal the identity of the woman who had been in his room. Or perhaps it had been Guinevere after all.
Gawain, ever the hothead, pledged a blood feud against Lancelot for the death of his brother. He demanded a trial by combat, and the two fought in a slugfest that went on for most of a day. In the end, Lancelot could have killed him but refused.
The dissension ripped the Companions apart. Except for Gawain, the older knights all sided with Lancelot. Arthur believed his story as well but had no real evidence to disprove the sworn accusation of so many of his knights. Added to that was the mysterious apparent attempted theft of me. I couldn’t offer an opinion if I’d had one to give, since I was back on my pedestal
I tell you, the place was in a total uproar before Arthur, sadly and without passing judgment, allowed Lancelot to leave court and return to Brittany. Probably hoping that things would settle down enough for level heads to prevail.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXVII: OUTTAKES
“So were Lancelot and Guinevere having an affair? All of the legends seem to think so.”
I’m not in a position to offer any evidence one way or the other.
“But what’s your opinion? You’re a woman; you must have one of those.”
If I were a betting cup, I’d say yes. Lancelot was her champion and protector, and he was around her a lot. He wasn’t a handsome man by any means, but apparently there is something about powerful men that can’t be denied by women—at least those flesh and blood women equipped to bear offspring.
“Just seems like a damned crazy thing to do. It’s the one part of the legend I’ve never been able to understand. Lancelot was Arthur’s first knight and one of his best friends. Guinevere was the golden queen of the greatest king of all time. Why would they betray him?”
You’ll have to answer that one for yourself. Sexual attraction is a much more powerful magic than my meager abilities. Ultimately, I can’t talk people into doing things that hurt themselves. But many—perhaps most—would happily destroy their own lives for sex under the right conditions.
“Or maybe it’s for love, and sex is just the icing on the cake.”
When you figure that out, would you let me know?