Here begins the tale of the Accusation of the Queen. It is an ancient tale, and I pray my telling of it be pleasing to all.
Long ago, when Arthur ruled the Island of the Mighty from his Court at Camelot, a young knight named Mordred grew impatient. Mordred knew that he was Arthur's son, fathered unwittingly upon the Pendragon's own sister, Morgana, and so Mordred would one day be Pendragon himself...but only if Arthur's Queen Guenivere never had a son of her own. For years, Guenivere had tried to give Arthur a son, but to Mordred's great relief, she had never been successful. Yet each day, Mordred was fearful that news would come that the Queen was carrying the future heir to the throne.
Also Mordred was fearful of his cousin, Sir Gawain, whom the King and Court cherished greatly. So beloved was Gawain by both noble and peasent that it was commonly held he would one day succeed Arthur as Pendragon. And so in his desperation to assure his destiny as King of all Britain, Mordred devised a plan to rid Arthur of his Queen and his favorite nephew.
It was the custom of the time to hold a great feast on the Autumn Equinox to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest, Now it was well known that Sir Gawain greatly adored apples, and that he would attend no feast which did not serve this fruit. Therefore the Queen made certain that great quantities of apples of all varieties were brought from all over the Island for each feast. And as the day of the festival approached, Mordred began putting his trecherous scheme in motion. The night before the feast, Mordred stole into the storeroom where the fruits were kept and found a basket of Gawain's favorite apples. These Mordred laced with a poison so lethal that one bite would bring instant death.
The next day, the Knights of the Round Table assembled in the Great Hall of Camelot. There was much boasting of the year's accomplishments, as each Knight told of his latest adventures, and many toasts were drunk and prayers of thanksgiving offered for the harvest. As was her custom, Queen Guenivere and her ladies served the main dishes of each course, which pleased Arthur greatly.
At last it came time fdr the desserts to be served, and the Queen personally carried in a bowl of candied apples. With great pride she placed these before Sir Gawain, knowing they were the food he liked best. Sir Gawain was so pleased with the look and smell of the delicasies that he stood at once and bowed to Gueinvere, saying, "Lady, as always, you do me great honor. Let it never be said that a man left your table dissatisfied." With that, a toast was raised to the Queen, and then a second and third. Soon other toasts followed, and for the moment, Sir Gawain forgot the apples.
A young Knight named Sir Patrise sat beside Gawain. It was his first feast, and he was so excited and drunk from the toasting that without thinking, he plucked one of the apples from the bowl and took a bite. Gawain leaned over to silently reproach him for robbing him of the first taste, but before the words were formed on his lips, Patrise was suddenly siezed with convulsions and fell to the floor dead.
A hush fell upon the Round Table, and then the first mutterings of the word, "Poison." And soon all eyes fell in suspicion upon Guenivere, for she had served the tainted fruit.
Now it happened that Patrise had been the cousin of a Knight named Sir Mador de le Porte, who was a strong supporter of Mordred. Mador stood and glared at the Queen. "Lady," he said, his voice slurred by too much wine, "I accuse you of this deed, for it was your hand which carried in these wretched apples!"
At once Gawain stood to the Queen's defense, stating that if the apples were poisoned, then he was the intended victim. "And everyone knows," said Gawain, "the Queen has no reason to see me dead."
"Nevertheless," said Mador, "it is my cousin who lies here dead, and for whatever reason or motive, it is the Queen who has rendered his death."
"Enough of this!' shouted Arthur, rising from his seat. "The Queen has no incentive to see either Gawain or Patrise dead."
"But dead Patrise is," said Mordred, rising to stand beside Mador. "And the Queen is accused. As King, it is your sacred duty to serve justice in this matter."
King Arthur let out a long sigh. "Very well," he said at last. "Let it not be said that anyone is above the Law in Camelot. In ten days, the Queen's Champion shall meet you, Mador, on the field of combat. There let the Gods decide her guilt or innocence."
"And if she is found guilty?" asked Mador.
Arthur focused his gaze not upon Mador, but upon Mordred. "Death by fire," he said. Then he swept from the Hall, followed quickly by the weeping Queen.
Mordred watched his father leave and remained silent, but secretly he was filled with glee. Though Gawain had not died, as was part of his plan, Guenivere certainly would. There was but one thing Mordred still needed to do, and that was to keep Sir Lancelot from championing the Queen.
Lancelot was not at the feast, for an adventure had called him away shortly before. But his cousin Sir Bors was at Camelot, and as soon as the King had made his pronouncement, Bors made ready to ride out to find Lancelot and tell him the news. Mordred knew he would do this, so he had some of his supporters accost him outside Camelot. Thus delayed, he hoped Bors would not reach Lancelot in time.
The appointed day came, and the Court assembled on the field. Mador dressed himself for battle, but there was no sign of Sir Lancelot. Mador approached the stands, where Arthur sat with Guenivere. "The sun is upon the field," the knight said, "and the Queen has no Champion. Therefore she must be found guilty of murder and sentenced according to the Law."
"I will stand as the Queen's Champion," came a voice from the crowd of Knights, and our stepped Sir Gawain.
"So be it," said the King, and Gawain quickly prepared himself for battle.
As he waited to meet Gawain on the field, Mador was approached by Sir Mordred, who saw an opportunity to rid himself of both Guenivere and Gawain. He spoke to Mador, saying, "I will tell you a secret few people know. Sir Gawain has a special power of this nature: from sunrise to noon, his strength waxes, but it wanes again from nood to sunset. Therefore, you must fight defensively until the sun is high overhead. As the sun sinks lower in the sky and Gawain begins to tire, then you must attack him with all your might. And when he begs for mercy, as he surely will, you must not grant it, but instead take his life."
"But why?" said Mador. "He is a good Knight and a true companion."
"There are two reasons. First, because the poison which killed your cousin was intended for him, and if he had died, your beloved Patrise would be alive. And second, because he fights in defense of the very woman who slew Patrise."
Mador thought about this and reluctantly agreed. Soon the battle was joined, and as Mordred had predicted, Gawain's strength grew as the sun rose in the sky. But as the sun began to set, Gawain grew weaker and more tired, and Mador seized the opportunity, delivering such a blow to Gawain that the Knight fell to the ground in a swoon and didn't rise again.
"Kill him!" shouted Mordred. "For Patrise!"
But Mador tossed aside his sword, saying, "No, I will spare his life. He fought valiantly for a cause he held dear, and no man should be slain for that. But the Queen's Champion is defeated, and therefore the Queen is found guilty. I demand justice!"
So with heavy heart, Arthur proclaimed that at sunrise the following day, the Queen would be burned at the stake. That night the Queen spent in the chapel, praying for deliverance from her plight.
As the sun rose the next morning, Guenivere was lead to the stake outside the walls of Camelot. Among her guards was Gawain's young brother, Sir Gareth, who wore no armor and carried no weapons. Gawain himself lay in a fever, still recovering from the wound which Mador had delivered upon his head. When all was ready, the gathered crowd looked to the castle, for there in a high window stood Arthur, his eyes filled with tears. Long they waited for the signal from the Pendragon to start the fire.
At last Arthur could delay no longer, and he raised his hand. But before he could drop it, there arose a great clatter from the edge of the field. All eyes looked to the West, and there rode Sir Lancelot, leading a great host of his kinsmen and supporters. The crowd scattered, as Lanceleot and his men fought against the knights guarding the Queen. In the rush and confusion, Lancelot's own sword struck down Sir Gareth, who offered no resistence.
Lancelot took the tearful Queen upon his horse, then he and his men rode swiftly away from Camelot toward Lancelot's castle of Joyous Gard. From his place in Camelot, Arthur breathed a long sigh of relief. His beloved Guenivere had been spared from death and was now safe with his most trusted Knight, Lancelot. But his relief was short-lived, for when Gawain regained his senses and learened of the death of his brother, he came before the King and demanded vengence. Mordred and Mador also demanded that Arthur bring Lancelot to justice, and the King was left with no choice but to gather his armies.
Leaving Mordred as regent in Camelot, Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table set out for the Summer Country, where Lancelot had fled with Guenivere.
The war was short but brutal. Arthur's strongest Knights had grown old with the years, and his forces had been depleted by the Quest for the Grail. Lancelot's men, though fewer in number, were younger and stronger. In addition, most of the Knights of the Round Table were uneasy fighting against men who shortly before had been among their number, for a cause in which they did not fully support. They begged the King to sue for peace, which Arthur greatly wished.
But Gawain and Mador would not be swayed. They both had lost kinsmen, and they demanded justice. It was wise Sir Bedivere who suggested a comprimise. "A single combat," he said, "between Lancelot and either Mador or Gawain. If Lancelot loses, Gawain will have his vengence, and the Queen can be returned to face the penalty of death. But if he wins, this war is ended, and the Queen is vindicated."
Mador and Gawain agreed to this, but argued over who would fight agaisnt Lancelot. In the end, Arthur himself chose Mador, as his cousin had been slain before Gawain's brother. Messengers were sent to Joyous Gard under the banner of truce, and Lancelot also agreed to this plan.
At the appointed time, Lancelot came out of his castle and met Sir Mador de le Porte. In the swift duel that followed, Lancelot was the victor, delivering such a blow that Mador fell to the ground like a stone and never again stood. "The Queen is proved innocent!" Lancelot cried triumphantly.
"But you are not," shouted Sir Gawain, drawing his sword and rushing at Lancelot. "You shall pay, villain, for the death of Gareth!" And before anyone could stop them, Lancelot and Gawain were locked in mortal combat.
Between blows, Lancelot tried to explain what a tragic mistake it had been to slay young Gareth, but Gawain would hear none of it, fighting with the strength of the sun itself. But even as the sun's strength waxes toward noon, so it wanes toward sunset, and as it did, Gawain weakened as well, until at last Lancelot was able to swing a stroke which smashed through Gawain's helm and into his skull.
As Gawain lay bleeding upon the field, Lancelot removed his helm and cradled his wounded head. "Alas that I should ever see such a day," said Arthur, "when two such close friends should fight so bitterly."
"Indeed we live in evil times, my Lord," said Gawain weakly, "and I have been blinded by that evil. My dear friend Lancelot, I forgive you the death of Gareth. I know now that you would never seek to harm me or my Clan, and that you only sought to save the Queen. My thirst for vengence blinded me to the good which has always shone in you. Forgive me for that, as I forgive your mistake."
"I do forgive you, Gawain," said Lancelot, his eyes filled with tears. "And you my King," continued Gawain, "whom I love more than any other, I plead with you, take back the Queen. She is innocent, as Lancelot's success today proves. Perhaps if I had been stronger in my faith of her innocence, I would have won against Mador, and these many lives would have been spared."
And with these words spoken, Gawain yielded up his ghost and passed over the waters of Annwn.
So then Kay and Bedivere escorted the Queen back to Camelot, while Arthur and Lancelot remained behind to bury Sir Gawain of Orkney. Then the King asked his Knight to return with him to Camelot. "I cannot," said Lancelot. "This war has hurt me terribly. I have fought against the Knights of the Round Table and against the best King the world has ever known. I cannot return until I have attoned for this crime."
"You fought in the service of the Queen," said Arthur. "You acted in honor."
"Perhaps history will see it that way," said Lancelot, "but right now, others will see me as a rebelli0us knight who strove against his leige. I must attone, and I must also wait for tempers to cool. Only then may I return to the Round Table."
So reluctantly, Arthur left Lancelot at Joyous Gard in the Summer Country and began the long journey back to Camelot. Both believed they would not see one another again for a long time. But indeed they lived in evil times, and forces were at work which would bring them together again all too soon, as I shall relate at the proper time.
Here ends the Tale of the Accusation of the Queen. May her Blessed Spirit be pleased with my telling of the tale, and may my ancestors smile upon me, now and ever.