Here you will find a The Once and Future King summary (T. H. White's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.
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The narrative begins with a young boy known as the Wart, who is raised in the castle of his foster father, Sir Ector. His playmate, Kay, is Sir Ector’s son and is groomed for knighthood. The Wart’s life changes when he gets lost in the forest and encounters Merlyn, a powerful wizard who becomes his tutor. Merlyn exposes the Wart to life lessons by transforming him into various animals. The Wart later serves as a squire to Kay, now a knight. Upon the death of the English King, Uther Pendragon, a tournament is held in London to identify the rightful king - whoever can pull out a sword lodged in a rock. The Wart, while running an errand for Kay, successfully pulls out the sword, making him the new king of England. Now known as King Arthur, he faces rebellion, particularly from King Lot of Orkney. Meanwhile, Lot’s sons vie for the affection of their mother, the cruel Morgause, who is also Arthur’s half-sister. Arthur begins planning his reign post-war, with guidance from Merlyn, and establishes the Knights of the Round Table to protect the weak. Arthur manages to defeat Lot’s army with the help of French kings, Bors and Ban. Morgause, however, arrives at Arthur’s court with her children, under the guise of peace. Unbeknownst to Arthur, she uses magic to seduce him and, despite being his half-sister, their incestuous union ultimately leads to his downfall. The narrative then focuses on Lancelot, a great knight embroiled in moral conflicts. His reputation is built on numerous quests, during the last of which he is deceived into sleeping with Elaine. This sparks jealousy in Queen Guenever, which drives Lancelot to madness. He is eventually found by Elaine and restored to health. Arthur’s kingdom begins to crumble and in a bid to distract his knights, he sends them on a quest for the Holy Grail. Upon his return, Lancelot resumes his affair with Guenever. Their relationship is eventually revealed by Mordred, Arthur’s son from his union with Morgause, leading to trials and subsequent rescue missions. As Arthur and his remaining knights lay siege on Lancelot’s castle, Mordred seizes the throne. On the eve of his final confrontation with Mordred, Arthur reflects on his life journey, confident that his legacy would endure past his last day.
During the medieval period in England, Sir Ector is responsible for bringing up two boys - his son Kay and an adoptive child, Wart. They are taught about nobility and maths, but Kay, who is meant to inherit Ector's properties and title one day, is hardly ever chastised for his mistakes in the lessons. While enjoying some port wine, Sir Ector and Sir Grummore Grummursum, his chum, resolve to seek a new teacher for the lads as their current one has lost his sanity. This decision is made in July when Sir Ector is occupied overseeing his tenants as they dry the year's hay. After toiling in the fields one day, Kay and Wart decide to go hawking. They take Cully, the hawk, from its room called the Mews and venture into the fields. Even though Wart is more skilled at managing Cully, Kay is adamant about carrying the bird. He releases Cully too soon, hoping it will hunt down a rabbit. However, Cully, who is in a foul mood, chooses to fly into a nearby tree and glare menacingly at the boys instead.
Cully, the bird, ventures further into the woods, prompting Wart's concern over Hob's wasted effort in training him. Kay dismisses Hob as a mere servant and leaves, but Wart chooses to recapture Cully. As night falls, he waits under Cully's tree when suddenly, an arrow is shot at him. He escapes deeper into the forest, becoming lost. He encounters a friendly, glasses-wearing knight named King Pellinore. Pellinore is on a mission to hunt the Questing Beast, a mystical creature. Wart suggests Pellinore to accompany him back to Sir Ector’s castle, hoping the knight can guide or protect him. Though interested, Pellinore hears the Questing Beast and chases after it, leaving Wart behind.
Wart falls asleep in the dense woods, only to discover a cottage upon waking. An old man, known as Merlyn, is at the well, pulling water. Merlyn, a figure with a lengthy white beard, dons a cap and gown adorned with stars and cryptic symbols. Already familiar with Wart's name, Merlyn invites him inside the cottage, a place brimming with mystic objects, peculiar relics, and a chatty owl called Archimedes. Merlyn reveals he's a magician who exists in reverse time and will become Wart's future tutor. As they head to Sir Ector’s castle, Wart can't help but feel like he's embarking on a quest.
Wart and Merlyn journey to the castle, only pausing to retrieve Cully. On arrival, Merlyn reveals his magic to Sir Ector, who views it as mere trickery, but still employs him. Kay mocks Wart's adventure, leading to a stern scolding from Merlyn in old-fashioned English, which leaves everyone feeling uneasy. Regretful of his anger, Merlyn apologizes to Kay and gifts him a silver hunting knife.
Nestled in the heart of the untamed Forest Sauvage lies Sir Ector’s castle. During a scorching August day, Wart encounters his fresh teacher, Merlyn, for their initial education session. They are by the castle moat when Wart expresses a desire to experience life as a fish. Merlyn promptly transforms him into a fish and joins him, assuming the guise of an aged, knowledgeable tench. In response to a humble roach's request, they pay a visit to a sickly fish family. Merlyn, despite suspecting the mother's ailment is fictional, proceeds to heal her. To teach Wart about the perils of unchecked power, Merlyn introduces him to the moat's king, a colossal pike. The pike, bearing a slight resemblance to Uncle Sam, confirms to Wart that brute force is the sole principle to live by. When the pike attempts to devour Wart, he narrowly escapes and is swiftly restored to his human form by Merlyn.
Kay and the Wart set out to hunt rabbits. Following Kay's successful kill of a rabbit, the Wart shoots an arrow skyward. The arrow is surprisingly seized by a gore-crow mid-flight. Kay, in a serious tone, informs his irritated friend that the bird was likely a witch.
During a jousting lesson for Kay, Wart expresses to Merlyn his desire to become a knight, despite knowing his role is to serve as Kay's squire. Merlyn, aware of a different fate for Wart, promises to show him real knights but doesn't reveal his future. Excited, Wart chooses to observe King Pellinore, someone he has grown fond of. Magically, Wart is taken to a clearing in the Forest Sauvage. There, he witnesses Sir Grummore Grummursum challenging Pellinore to a duel. They exchange pleasantries before the jousting starts, hurling formal taunts at each other. The ensuing battle is absurd, with the heavy armor preventing either knight from causing harm. They charge each other twice on horseback, then on foot, only to miss and collide with trees. Merlyn assures Wart that the knights will be friends when they awaken. Following this bizarre spectacle, Wart is returned to the practice field at Sir Ector’s castle.
Feeling uninterested, the Wart roams the castle grounds. Using magic, Merlyn transforms the Wart into a merlin, a type of bird of prey, and places him with the other avian residents in the Mews for the night. The commanding peregrine falcon questions the Wart's lineage and dares him to prove his worth. As a newcomer, the Wart has to demonstrate his mettle by staying within Cully the goshawk's reach until the other birds have sounded their bells thrice. Accustomed to violence, Cully launches an attack on the Wart, who narrowly avoids it as the bells chime for the third time. The birds then commend him through song as “the King of Merlins.”
Wart wakes up to Kay accusing him of breaking curfew. Wart stays silent about his late-night activities, leading to a brawl where Wart gets a black eye and Kay's nose bleeds. As Kay nurses his injury, he cries, envious of the Wart's adventures granted by Merlyn. Wart questions Merlyn about his neglect of Kay, and Merlyn answers with a story about the Rabbi Jachanan and Elijah. They were both hosted by a kind man and a cruel one. The kind man's cow perishes, while Elijah aids the cruel man by repairing his house wall. When questioned about the lack of justice, Elijah says the kind man's fate would've been worse without his kindness and the cruel man would've prospered more if he wasn't cruel. Wart persists in demanding an adventure for Kay, and Merlyn finally agrees.
Wart and Kay set off through Sir Ector's barley fields, heading towards the Forest Sauvage. During their journey, they encounter a towering giant known as Little John, who guides them to a camp led by a man named Robin Wood, or Robin Hood as the villagers call him. In the camp, they are introduced to Robin's love interest, Maid Marian. Robin discloses to them that Friar Tuck, one of his men, has been captured by Morgan le Fay, a mysterious woman rumored to be the fairy queen. This same woman has also seized Dog Boy, a servant of Sir Ector, and Wat, a local simpleton. Upon learning this, Wart and Kay pledge to assist in the rescue mission.
Robin informs Wart and Kay that only pure-hearted children are able to access Morgan le Fay's fortress. Hence, they need to venture alone despite his men's aid. He hands them a knife, citing that it will serve as their protection since fairies fear iron. Additionally, he cautions them against consuming any food in the castle, as doing so would imprison them forever. As he imparts his advice, his men quietly join them for a meal. Later that night, the group reconvenes near the castle where Marian, Kay, and Wart stealthily bypass a menacing griffin—a creature with a falcon's head, a lion's body, and a snake's tail. The fairies crafted their castle from butter, meat, and cheese to attract children, but Wart and Kay are repulsed. Within the castle, they discover Morgan le Fay lounging on a lard bed, and Dog Boy, Friar Tuck, and Wat chained to pork pillars. The boys free the captives by intimidating Morgan le Fay with their knives.
When Morgan le Fay's defeat causes the castle to vanish, the griffin remains and assaults Kay and the Wart during their getaway. Attempts by Robin's crew to repel the beast with their bows fail. As the creature lunges at the Wart, Kay successfully pierces its eye with an arrow, causing its death. The weight of the dying griffin snaps the Wart's collarbone as it collapses on him. Kay receives the griffin's head as a trophy from Robin's group. For his part in the event, the Wart only desires to take Wat to Merlyn, hoping the wizard can heal Wat's insanity. Upon their return to Sir Ector's castle, the boys are commended for their daring exploit while a very proud Kay basks in the glory.
Bored of healing his fractured collarbone, the Wart requests Merlyn to turn him into an ant. He's told to place a reed between Merlyn's two ant colonies before he's transformed. As an ant, he finds himself on the edge of one of the nests. There's a sign at the entrance stating, EVERYTHING NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY. The Wart hears constant broadcasts in his head, alternating between orders and nonsensical soothing talk. He encounters an ant organizing the bodies of two deceased ants. Perceiving the Wart as idle, the ant suspects his sanity and reports him. The Wart sarcastically suggests that he's just lost his memory after a hit on the head, and the ant assigns him tasks. While working, he hears increasing broadcasts preparing the ants for an illogical war, and religious talks promoting aggression. Just before the colonies start their war, Merlyn changes the Wart back to human. EVERYTHING NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY.
During the month of November, England's King, Uther Pendragon, sends a missive to Sir Ector. The message informs him that the king's own huntsman, William Twyti, intends to hunt in the vicinity of Sir Ector's fort during the coming winter. Additionally, it is implied that Sir Ector should provide accommodation for Twyti, along with his hounds and personnel.
The entire hamlet gathers at the castle's grand hall for a festive meal on the night of Christmas. William Twyti and his followers are present. The castle ground and the surrounding areas, blanketed with snow, look exquisite, setting a jovial atmosphere for all.
Twyti, assisted by Robin Wood, embarks on a hunt early one morning. They track down a boar that eventually charges at Twyti. Robin intervenes just in time, killing the boar with a sword to protect Twyti. Post the hunt, Pellinore stumbles upon the Questing Beast, ailing and weak. He concludes that it's condition is due to his negligence, having spent months at Sir Grummore's castle while the beast languished. Stricken with guilt, Pellinore organizes a team to transport the beast to Sir Ector's castle. His intention is to nurse it back to health and resume the quest.
During a balmy spring day, a discussion ensues between Merlyn, his chatty owl Archimedes, and Wart. Wart shares his adoration for the rook, praising its flight, suggesting it's as if the bird's soaring with a sense of humor. Archimedes, on the other hand, cites the pigeon as his bird of choice. Merlyn, in turn, postulates a theory that the utterances from birds and other creatures mimic the sounds echoed in their natural environment.
In the evening, Merlyn magically changes Wart into an owl. With Archimedes' guidance, he learns to soar smoothly. Once he's adept at flying, Merlyn further transforms him into a goose, placing him in a massive, marshy area. Wart joins a flock of other geese, forages for food, stands on guard duty while they feed, and becomes acquainted with a female goose called Lyo-lyok. She teases him for his odd conduct, to which Wart reveals his true human identity. He surprises her by speculating if they're protecting themselves from a possible incursion by fellow geese. In response, Lyo-lyok states that the concept of same-species conflict is unimaginable considering the existing external predators and absence of aerial borders or territories to fight for.
Lyo-lyok educates the Wart about the customs and ways of the geese. Their society is devoid of personal possessions or laws, and leadership is determined by navigation skills. With the advent of the migration period, they embark on their first journey to Norway. The Wart, upon reverting to human form, is woken by Kay. Kay, who shares a bed with him, jestingly comments that his snoring resembles that of a goose.
Half a dozen years fly by. Kay's mood swings increase, as he insists on wielding weapons beyond his capability and provokes everyone to battles he always loses. His interactions with the Wart decline, considering the Wart will soon be of lower social rank than him. Yet, it seems Kay acts this way reluctantly. Meanwhile, the Wart accepts his impending role as Kay's squire.
Merlyn advises the glum Wart that learning something new is the ultimate antidote to melancholy. As they'll soon part, he says he can no longer transform Wart into an animal. Merlyn changes him into a badger and guides him to meet a knowledgeable badger. However, the Wart, in his miserable state, strays from the path, encountering a hedgehog he intimidates. Returning to the badger's den, Wart engages in conversation with the badger. The badger narrates a tale of humans gaining power over animals. Initially, all creatures resembled formless embryos. God offered three modifications to each creature. Animals opted for enhancements like claws and large teeth, but human embryos chose to remain as they were created. Consequently, God granted humans superiority over other creatures and the capacity to wield any instrument. The badger, though, questions if humans have misused their superiority over animals into oppression.
King Pellinore arrives with news of the passing of King Uther Pendragon, who died heirless. In London, a sword is discovered, lodged in an anvil and stone, outside a church. The inscription on the sword reads, "Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England." A contest has been scheduled on New Year's Day, inviting men from all of England to attempt extracting the sword. Kay persuades Sir Ector, Sir Grummore, and Sir Pellinore to participate in the contest. Meanwhile, Wart and Merlyn join the conversation, with Merlyn declaring his departure.
On the tournament's day, Kay's eagerness leads them to the jousting grounds much earlier than necessary. Arriving there, Kay shockingly discovers he's forgotten his sword at the inn, arrogantly instructing Wart to fetch it. The inn is locked, and instead, Wart finds a sword lodged in a stone near a church. Despite his initial failed attempts, he manages to extricate the sword, encouraged by his old animal companions. When Wart returns with the sword, Kay deceptively asserts that he was the one to remove it from the stone, knowing it's the sword that will proclaim the next English king. Under Sir Ector's questioning, Kay confesses that Wart was the actual remover. Wart is horrified as his dear foster father and brother bow before him, causing him to regret ever discovering the sword.
The Wart earns recognition as king through his consistent ability to embed and extract the sword from the anvil. The entire nation showers him with presents. Suddenly, Merlyn materializes in his presence, revealing that the Wart is the son of Uther Pendragon and it was he who delivered him as a baby to Sir Ector's fortress. Merlyn informs the Wart that henceforth, he will bear the title of King Arthur.
Four brothers - Gawaine, Gaheris, Gareth, and Agravaine - converse within a castle's cold walls in Orkney, a medieval Irish realm. Gawaine narrates their grandmother Igraine's tale, a noblewoman from Cornwall. Igraine outlived her husband because Uther Pendragon desired her and ensured her husband's death. Morgause, their mother, attempts to make herself invisible in a room below. She boils a cat alive, separates its bones and flesh, inserting each bone into her mouth while observing herself in a looking glass. Preoccupied and tired, she discards the remains out the window before identifying the right bone. Meanwhile, the brothers swear revenge against the king's son, Arthur, for their grandfather's murder.
Arthur and Merlyn, back in England, discuss a battle against Gaelic King Lot, husband to Morgause. Although Arthur is triumphant, Merlyn reprimands him for his ignorance of the number of foot soldiers killed. Merlyn warns Arthur he must start making decisions himself, as he foresees falling for Nimue, a girl who will enchant him into a cave for centuries. Arthur, contemplating the unfettered power he possesses, is interrupted when he uses a stone in his hand to knock off Merlyn's hat.
During a grouse hunting trip, Kay, Merlyn, and Arthur discuss the Gaelic rebellion against Arthur. Merlyn attributes the unrest to old ethnic disputes between the Gaels, the former rulers of England, and the invading Normans. Furthermore, he cites the murder of the Cornish count by Arthur's father as another cause. This count was the patriarch of Queen Morgause, Morgan le Fay, and Elaine. Arthur acknowledges these motives, but Merlyn argues that past injustices should not justify current ones. Despite being a Gael, he criticizes his own people for a similar displacement of another group in the past. He insists that the ancient hostilities should be left in the past.
Merlyn insists that combat is generally unjustifiable, barring self-protection instances. Kay questions the simplicity of always pinpointing the instigator, but Merlyn staunchly refutes this. He educates Arthur that his adversary, King Lot, initiates conflicts as nonchalantly as one might engage in fox hunting, showing complete disregard for the average warrior.
Gawaine, Gareth, Gaheris, and Agravaine are at Mother Morlan's home in Orkney, where they meet St. Toirdealbhach, a “relapsed saint.” The old, battle-hardened saint shares King Conor's tale, who died from a magic bullet lodged in his temple after hearing Jesus was being crucified. St. Toirdealbhach laments the large-scale wars of present times, making it hard to remember the cause. The boys argue that a large army is essential for victory. Afterward, the boys make their way to the beach on donkeys, treated harshly. A magical barge carries three knights—King Pellinore, Sir Grummore, and Sir Palomides—and their dog, attracting locals' curiosity and attention.
Arthur seeks counsel from Merlyn, who reminds Arthur as the king, he should call people to him. Merlyn is later invited to the Royal Chamber, where he, Arthur, Kay, and Sir Ector discuss chivalry. Arthur argues that power doesn't justify action, observing that knights are currently unchecked and the people engage in brutal acts against each other. He points out knights like Sir Bruce Sans Pitié, who murder and kidnap maidens for amusement. Arthur believes power can be harnessed for righteousness, pledging to quell the Gaelic rebellion with force before forming a knightly order dedicated to justice.
At Orkney, King Pellinore, Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore join Morgause in a unicorn hunt, as she attempts to kindle their affection for her. The local folklore suggests only a virgin can lure a unicorn, a criteria Morgause doesn't meet, unbeknownst to the Orkney boys. The youngsters pay a visit to St. Toirdealblach, where they hear an additional tale about a witch. Inspired to catch a unicorn for their mother, they persuade a kitchen maid to pretend to be a virgin and tie her to a tree in the woods. A unicorn does show up, placing its head gently on the maid's lap. Agravaine, in a sudden burst of fervor, slays the unicorn, while shouting incomprehensibly that the maid is his mother and the unicorn dared to rest its head on her lap. The boys take the unicorn's head back as a prize, but their mother overlooks it. When Morgause discovers their deeds, she orders them to be disciplined.
On the battlefield of Bedegraine, Arthur, Merlyn, and Kay strategize over Arthur's knightly order before confronting King Lot and his army. Arthur believes a round table should be used, promoting equality among the knights. Merlyn reminds him that King Leodegrance, father of Guenever, Arthur's future wife, owns such a table. He also requests Arthur to prompt him to caution him about Guenever later. Kay suggests to Merlyn that instigating a war is justified for a better future for the defeated. However, Merlyn vehemently opposes this idea, advocating for peaceful persuasion over forceful imposition. In his fury, he compares Kay's beliefs with an Austrian who led the world into devastating turmoil.
Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore fool King Pellinore into believing they've sighted the Questing Beast by dressing up as it. Concurrently, Morgause grows to despise the knights after they reject her advances, but her love for her children remains intact. She is granted forgiveness, a fact relayed to the others by Gareth, who finds them in the middle of a dispute. Agravaine proposes they inform their father of Morgause's infidelity with the English knights, inciting Gawaine's fury. Agravaine's attempt to protect himself with a knife nearly results in his death at Gawaine's hands. Later, Palomides and Grummore, while pretending to be the Questing Beast to fool Pellinore, encounter the actual beast. The beast, mistaking them for its kind, falls in love and chases them up a cliff.
During the eve of the confrontation with King Lot, Merlyn cautions Arthur about his impending marriage to Guenever, specifically highlighting the potential issues between Guenever and Lancelot. Merlyn imparts a story to Arthur, with an underlying lesson that destiny is unavoidable.
At a beach in Orkney, King Pellinore stumbles upon Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore stuck on a cliff's edge, still wearing their costumes. The Questing Beast, mistaking them for her mate, is enamored and gazes at them from the cliff's base. Pellinore, refusing to harm the beast, seizes her tail, enabling the knights to escape to Morgause’s fortress. They arrive safely, but the beast slips away from Pellinore and awaits their departure outside the fortress. Pellinore later returns to the fortress, accompanied by Piggy, the queen of Flanders' daughter. Piggy relates that she and the Questing Beast had traveled on the magic barge from Flanders to locate Pellinore. Their joyous reunion, however, is not appreciated by the fortress's occupants, who are disconcerted by the Questing Beast patiently waiting for her supposed mate to reappear.
Arthur defies conventional war customs during his fierce conflict with Lot and the other Gaels at Bedegraine, opting to strike under the cover of darkness and focusing his attack on the knights rather than their foot soldiers. Although Arthur's troops initially number fewer than those of the Gaelic kings', his ranks burgeon when he secures the support of two French allies, Kings Bors and Ban. These French rulers provide Arthur with additional forces, in return for assistance in their domestic conflicts on French soil. With this bolstered support, Arthur's army succeeds in routing the Gaelic army swiftly and decisively.
The Questing Beast keeps its vigil outside the Orkney castle as King Lot's vanquished troops troop back. Sir Pellinore, Sir Ector, and Sir Grummore are taken aback when they discover the rivalry between England and Orkney. Merlyn drops in, appearing radiant and content due to his blossoming romance with Nimue. The knights seek his counsel on how to deter the Questing Beast, but he seems distracted. He struggles to recall a crucial caution he ought to share with Arthur, and instead advises them to probe the beast's psyche. Morgause, under the guise of peace-making, plans a trip to England with her offspring. During her preparations, she ominously toys with her spancel - a bewitched ribbon crafted from human skin, intended to make men smitten with her.
Morgause, her sons, and the British knights undertake a trip to England. King Arthur, reminiscing about his youth with Pellinore, has arranged a lavish wedding for Pellinore and Piggy. At the same time, in North Humberland, Merlyn recalls a crucial detail he failed to mention to Arthur: they share a mother, Igraine, making Morgause Arthur's half-sister and her sons Arthur's nephews. Overcome by fatigue, Merlyn fails to immediately rectify the situation. Before he can inform Arthur, Morgause persuades Arthur to sleep with her using the spancel and her allure. Mordred, their son, is born nine months later. The narrator highlights the tragedy of Arthur's story: an innocent error made in his past has catastrophic consequences in his future, leading to the destruction of his dreams.
King Ban's offspring, Lancelot, excels in sports despite his terrible looks. Arthur had once shared his ambition of eradicating the notion that strength equates to justice with a younger Lancelot. He asked if Lancelot would aid him in his mission when he matured. Lancelot agreed enthusiastically, devoting himself to Arthur's cause and embarking on rigorous training.
Lancelot is guided by Uncle Dap, a well-versed knight, who devotes three years to teaching him the art of chivalry, swordsmanship and jousting. The narrator prophesies that Lancelot will rise to be Arthur's finest knight. Lancelot hones his skills by identifying armor vulnerabilities, weightlifting, and engaging in regulated, pretend sword fights with his siblings and relatives.
Merlyn shares with Lancelot that he is destined to become the world's greatest knight. He reveals that Arthur has taken Guenever as his wife and already commands a hundred knights at his Round Table. Lancelot feels disheartened at not being among those chosen for the table. After this discussion, Merlyn, accompanied by his sweetheart Nimue, disappears on a mystical getaway. Deciding not to wait any longer, Lancelot plans to depart for England at once.
Lancelot, with Uncle Dap as his aide, heads towards Camelot - Arthur's castle. They cross paths with a knight clad in black armor, who instigates a joust with Lancelot. Lancelot emerges victorious, only to discover that the defeated knight is King Arthur. The King, overjoyed by Lancelot's presence, knights him upon their return to Camelot. Initially, Lancelot harbors resentment towards Guenever, fearing she might disrupt his close bond with Arthur. Despite his initial coldness, Guenever attempts to build a rapport. However, a heated confrontation with her makes Lancelot realize the emotional hurt he has caused. This realization leads him to stop viewing Guenever as a threat.
Lancelot and Guenever mend their relationship, leading to frequent companionship. Uncle Dap disagrees with this, leading to a clash with Lancelot. The agreement is that Dap can stay in Camelot if he doesn't imply anything about Lancelot and Guenever. Arthur is too trusting to suspect their relationship, effectively forgetting Merlyn's earlier warning. To validate his trust, Arthur takes Lancelot to war with the Romans, which angers Lancelot as he wishes to stay and protect Guenever. The war spans several years, culminating in Arthur's dominion over most of Europe. Through all this, Lancelot serves as Arthur's trusted friend and champion.
Arthur and Lancelot arrive back in England, believing their bond unshakeable. They are warmly received upon their return. However, as Guenever welcomes them, Lancelot realizes that she could complicate his relationship with Arthur. The storyteller suggests Lancelot may have whisked Guenever away if he were a less honorable man. Nonetheless, he restrains his feelings for her. Unable to bear his interactions with Guenever in Arthur's presence, Lancelot chooses to depart from the court and embark on a quest instead.
Lancelot, on a mission, saves Gawaine from the clutches of the malicious Sir Carados. Subsequently, while at his cousin Sir Lionel's place, he gets caught by four queens, including Morgan le Fay. Despite pressure, he resists their advances to make any of them his mistress. A serving girl helps him break free, and in return, he promises to represent her father, King Bagdemagus, in a tournament. In the competition, Lancelot carries an unmarked shield to maintain anonymity. He helps King Bagdemagus's team come out victorious. Post the tournament, Lancelot embarks on a journey to locate Lionel. He learns that Sir Turquine, Sir Carados’s sibling, has imprisoned Lionel along with sixty-three more knights. An intense battle ensues between Lancelot and Turquine. Turquine, unaware of Lancelot's identity, gets awestruck by his prowess and offers to free the prisoners, given the mysterious knight isn't Lancelot. On learning the knight's true identity, Turquine fights for another two hours before being defeated by Lancelot. Among the released prisoners is Gaheris, who is in awe of Lancelot's continuous assistance to the Orkneys. He reveals to Lancelot that another captive is Agravaine.
During a warm summer day, a lovely woman requests Lancelot to ascend a tree to get her falcon back. As he sheds his armor, the woman's spouse, a corpulent knight, assails him. This knight, representing the diminishing nobility in Arthur's reign, totally disregards Lancelot's call for a just duel. Ultimately, Lancelot dispatches the hefty knight. Afterwards, he encounters another knight intent on executing his wife over infidelity charges. Lancelot intervenes, but is tricked, allowing the knight to behead his wife. The knight pleads for mercy, and Lancelot, unable to slay a man pleading for his life, lets him live. Lancelot's other exploits follow a similar pattern, and he consistently sends his captives to Arthur's court at Carlion, to kneel before Guenever, not Arthur.
Guenever finds Lancelot's displays of affection endearing, and when he returns, they're immediately drawn to each other. Despite this, she continues to harbor profound affection for Arthur. Lancelot struggles to keep his feelings in check, while Arthur becomes concerned about his knights' obsession with what he labels as "games-mania," a competitive spirit where each knight measures his skills against the others. His concern is particularly focused on the Orkneys, whose father, Lot, was inadvertently slain by Pellinore. Following Lot's death, his widow, Morgause, attempts to charm every knight she comes across, causing the Orkney knights to become unruly in the process.
Lancelot finds himself incapable of pursuing his affection for Guenever, constrained by his faith and the moral code of Arthur - a code he truly respects. Despite being admired by all, Lancelot harbors a profound self-loathing.
Lancelot remains at Camelot, Arthur's court, for a few weeks, grappling with his feelings for Guenever. He fears that any romantic involvement with her would compromise his strength and standing as Arthur's most honored knight. Uncle Dap suggests he embarks on another quest and Lancelot sets off to Corbin's haunted castle, owned by King Pelles. During his journey, he encounters villagers who inform him about a local girl under a fairy spell, including Morgan le Fay, trapped in a cauldron of boiling water. They believe only the world's greatest knight can rescue her. Despite his resistance, Lancelot is compelled to play the rescuer and retrieves a naked lady named Elaine from the cauldron. Following the rescue, they meet Elaine's father, revealed to be King Pelles. They receive an invitation to stay from Pelles. Struck by Elaine's radiance, Lancelot is unable to comprehend the miraculous feat he has accomplished.
Lancelot, deep in despair at Corbin castle, pines for Guenever. The butler of Pelles offers him wine for comfort. In his drunken state, the butler informs him that Guenever awaits him in a nearby castle. Enthused, Lancelot hastens to meet her. He awakens the following day beside Elaine, not Guenever, and understands he's been duped. Enraged, he considers killing Elaine, believing his power and ability to perform miracles are rooted in his purity, which he feels he's now lost. Elaine declares her love for him and her desire to have his child, whom she plans to name Galahad. Lancelot replies that due to her deception, the child will be hers alone, and he decides to depart.
In Camelot, Guenever's thoughts wander to Lancelot while she tailors a fresh shield cover for Arthur. Lancelot, believing Elaine has led him to his downfall, sees no reason not to hasten his ruin, and he hurries to meet Guenever. Unexpectedly, they find themselves sharing a bed before they comprehend the gravity of their actions.
King Ban, the father of Lancelot, finds himself in a crisis and reaches out to Arthur for assistance. In response, Arthur departs for France, delegating the protection of his realm to Lancelot. During Arthur's absence, Lancelot and Guenever enjoy an entire year of blissful companionship. He reveals to Guenever his childhood piety, a time when he would chastise himself over even negligible missteps. Lancelot shares that his initial distance from Guenever stemmed from fear that an intimate relationship with her could jeopardize his miraculous abilities. However, he ultimately gifts his divine abilities to her as a symbol of his affection, expressing no remorse for his decision.
Upon discovering that Elaine has had a son named Galahad with Lancelot, Guenever is overcome with distress. She reacts bitterly, attacking Lancelot verbally and even threatening Elaine's life. Although Lancelot and Guenever eventually make up amidst tears, their relationship has been tainted with suspicion and animosity.
Arthur returns from France sensing trouble at Camelot. He attempts to discuss Guenever with Lancelot, however, the conversation is uncomfortable and doesn't directly mention their affair. Lancelot encounters Guenever, who informs him of Elaine's impending arrival. Despite appearing ready to make amends with Lancelot, Guenever withdraws, stating her unwillingness to hinder him should he decide to wed Elaine.
Elaine's arrival with Galahad is met with a warm reception from Guenever, despite some underlying tension. Lancelot steers clear of Elaine and Galahad, until Guenever insists he greet them. Yet, Guenever strictly instructs Lancelot not to share a bed with Elaine. Lancelot assures her he had no plans of doing so. Seeing his son is intriguing to him, but when Elaine attempts to hug Lancelot, he hastily leaves the room.
The following day, Guenever calls Lancelot and Elaine to her quarters. With pleasant memories of his nighttime rendezvous with Guenever, Lancelot complies. However, Guenever is irate, blaming Lancelot for having a secret affair with Elaine. Elaine stands up for Lancelot, revealing she was under the assumption that it was Guenever he was seeing. Upon hearing this, Lancelot realizes he's been deceived once more. Guenever dismisses Elaine’s explanation. In a sudden outburst, Lancelot leaps from the window, escaping the palace. Elaine harshly faults Guenever for Lancelot's rashness and assumed insanity.
A couple of years down the line, King Pelles hears an interesting tale from his friend, Sir Bliant. The story revolves around a strange encounter with a savage man Sir Bliant suspects was Lancelot. The primitive man was unclothed but possessed refined speech and extraordinary sword skills, so much so that he even defeated Sir Bliant who was fully armored. After the fight, the wild man retreated to Sir Bliant's tent and fell into a deep sleep. Using this opportunity, Sir Bliant transported him to his castle. Eighteen months post the initial incident, an assault on Sir Bliant was carried out by two wicked knights, including Sir Bruce Sans Pitié. Witnessing the onslaught from a window, the wild man broke free from his chains and came to Sir Bliant's rescue. Following this event, there's speculation between Sir Bliant and Pelles that this possibly was Lancelot.
Afterwards, a feral man arrives at the castle of Pelles. When Pelles questions if the man is Lancelot, he only responds with a growl. Pelles instructs his aids to dress the man in a jester's attire and confine him in the stable. One evening, Pelles, under the influence of alcohol, hands his cloak to the feral man. Dressed in this regal garment, the man appears courageous and dignified, prompting the servants to clear a way for him as he exits.
Elaine has made the choice to pursue a religious life and her thoughts of Lancelot have diminished. One afternoon, she stumbles upon a feral man sleeping in her father's garment and instantly identifies him as Lancelot. She informs King Pelles who then calls for healers to restore Lancelot's mental health. Lancelot eventually regains consciousness, utterly unaware of his actions during his period of insanity.
Lancelot, assuming the pseudonym of Le Chevalier Mal Fet or "the ill-made knight," settles with Elaine in Sir Bliant's fortress. A novice knight discovers Lancelot's real identity and confronts him, to which Lancelot requests privacy. In response, the young knight respectfully pledges to maintain Lancelot's anonymity.
Elaine sets up a large tournament in spring. Lancelot, hidden under a disguise, outperforms all others, leading to their disgruntled departure. Elaine, upset over the social disaster, discovers Lancelot on the castle's edge, his shield bearing an emblem of a knight honoring a queen. Eventually, two knights visit Bliant Castle, seeking to compete with the unidentified Chevalier Mal Fet. They're astounded by his abilities and are stunned when he discloses his true identity as Lancelot. The two knights are revealed to be, Sir Degalis, a Round Table knight, and Sir Ector de Maris, a knight serving Arthur and Lancelot's sibling. Elaine spectates their joyful reunion, aware that her heart will be shattered when they depart with Lancelot.
Lancelot is convinced by Sir Degalis and Sir Ector de Maris to return to Camelot, despite feeling indebted to Elaine. When a squire appears, waiting for Lancelot by the castle moat, Elaine questions Lancelot about her son, Galahad, if he were not to come back. Lancelot dismisses her fears, assuring her of his return. The squire is revealed to be Uncle Dap, who brings Lancelot’s mended and polished armor. The helmet has a mantle, stitched by Guenever, that reminds him of her. Lancelot then departs with Uncle Dap, without a backward glance.
A decade and a half has elapsed, transforming England into a more refined society. The era of culprits, killers and blazing towers has been replaced by a period of intellectuals and medical facilities. Arthur is acknowledged as an exceptional ruler, while Lancelot is seen as a mythical champion. A fresh, enthusiastic wave of knights, including Gareth and Arthur’s progeny, Mordred, flocks to Camelot.
Arthur shares with Lancelot the violent and troubled nature of the Orkney boys, which he attributes to Morgause. Lancelot finds Mordred, one of Morgause's children, to be the least impressive, unaware that Mordred is Arthur's offspring. He nonchalantly informs Arthur of Morgause's affair with King Pellinore's youngest son, Lamorak. Arthur is shocked, as Pellinore had accidentally killed Lot in a jousting event, which led to Pellinore's own death by a member of the Orkney family. Arthur fears Lamorak might face a similar fate. A tearful Gareth arrives and conveys to Arthur and Lancelot that Agravaine has murdered their mother upon discovering her with Lamorak. He further reveals that Agravaine, Mordred, and Gawaine have set their sights on Lamorak too.
Gawaine and Mordred make their way back to Camelot. While Gawaine feels guilt over breaking Arthur's rules, he maintains that Lamorak received his due. Mordred, however, is nastier, seeking forgiveness from the king in a rather cheeky manner. Though Arthur grudgingly pardons them, he instructs them to depart. Noticing the Round Table's diminishing strength, Arthur sends his knights on a mission to find the Holy Grail. This is said to be the copper dish or cup used by Christ during the Last Supper. At this point, Lancelot finds out that Galahad is set for knighthood.
Two years later, the knights who abandoned the Holy Grail quest slowly make their way back to Camelot. Gawaine is the first to come back, quite disgruntled, having found no sign of the Holy Grail. He expresses his resentment towards Galahad, viewing his religious devotion as presumptuous. Gawaine is perplexed by Galahad's abstention from meat, alcohol and his commitment to chastity. Gawaine shares his experience of defeating seven knights besieging a maiden's castle, only to realize that Galahad had already triumphed over them without any bloodshed. At two hermitages, Gawaine was scolded by the priests for his excessive violence and lack of remorse. Arthur listens to all this, noting that Gawaine appears to have been more engrossed in violent escapades than in the pursuit of the Holy Grail.
Sir Lionel recounts his brother, Sir Bors's trials that put his honor to the test with a blend of affection and annoyance. Bors triumphed over a knight, sparing his life in the first trial. Then came a choice between saving a lady in distress or his brother Lionel, and Bors picked the woman. A demon posing as a person warned Bors that a certain woman would kill herself unless he slept with her. He declined, even when the woman threatened her servants' lives, much to Guenever's shock. When Lionel and Bors met again, Lionel, furious at Bors for choosing the woman over him, attempted to slay his brother. Bors held back from retaliating even when Lionel murdered a hermit and another knight trying to defend Bors. Just as Lionel was about to kill Bors, divine intervention stopped him, and the brothers reconciled. Lionel, remorseful for his murdered victims, noted that Bors, above all, was worthy enough to find the Holy Grail.
Sir Aglovale, driven by vengeance for his brother Lamorak's death at the hands of the Orkney clan, is persuaded by Arthur to abandon his vengeful pursuit to prevent further bloodshed. He then shares tales of his youngest sibling, Sir Percival, a holy knight akin to Galahad. Percival embarks on mystical quests in an enchanted forest before joining Sir Bors and Sir Galahad on a magical ship. On this vessel, Percival's sister, a pious nun, also joins them in their mission to find the Holy Grail. The trio faces conflict with a group of men whom they kill, but Galahad reassures them this act was not a sin as the men were unbaptized. The knights then arrive at another fortress where Percival’s sister selflessly sacrifices her existence to cure a woman afflicted with a deadly ailment. Once done with his narration, Aglovale requests Arthur to extend a dinner invitation to the Orkneys.
Various knights come back with conflicting stories about the exploits of Bors, Percival, and Galahad. Whispers circulate that Lancelot has either lost his life or his mind. Guenever starts to act more recklessly, while Mordred and Agravaine eagerly anticipate her exposing her secret relationship. Lancelot reappears at Camelot, tired but mentally stable. Uncle Dap informs Arthur that Lancelot has been donning a hair shirt, a harsh form of atonement for sins.
Lancelot shares his quest for the Holy Grail with Arthur and Guenever. At 42, Guenever has made an effort to appear attractive for him, a sight that lifts his spirits. He admits he didn't find the Grail as it was intended for Galahad. Lancelot explains Galahad's detached demeanor as being more heavenly than earthly. He reveals Galahad overpowered him in a joust. In the hope of regaining his superior knightly prowess, Lancelot confessed his sins but was subsequently defeated by another knightly party. On waking up in a chapel, post defeat, he found his sword and armor gone. He took to wearing a hair shirt in penance. Despite believing he had atoned and could regain his previous fighting ability, he was once more overpowered when he battled a knight clothed in black.
Arthur is furious that Lancelot, his top warrior, has been defeated. Lancelot carries on with his tale: he later boarded a mystical boat, and was soon joined by Galahad. In due course, Galahad disembarked to pursue the Holy Grail. The boat finally made its way back to the castle housing the Grail, and Lancelot was granted permission to observe Galahad and other sacred knights partake in a Mass in a chapel safeguarding the Holy Grail.
After discovering spirituality, Lancelot chooses to break off his liaison with Guenever. Despite this, she remains sure he'll come back to her. The book makes clear that Guenever isn't a destructive temptress. Unlike typical temptresses who leave men ruined, the two men that Guenever is fond of have achieved exceptional things.
Guenever's trust in Lancelot's affection dwindles with each passing day. She eventually insists he embark on a fresh quest, finding his constant company unbearable. At the brink of abandoning his restraint and reigniting his past relationship with Guenever, he finds her avoiding him. She departs from the room and halts their communication. The following morning sees Lancelot departing from Camelot.
Camelot's glory days are long gone, especially with Lancelot's absence. The finest knights have either embarked on a successful quest for the Holy Grail or met their demise. Courtly life is now characterized by frivolous trends and prevalent unfaithfulness. Mordred and his allies are now the dominant force in Camelot, with Guenever largely loathed by all. In an effort to gain favor, she organizes a feast for the knights and serves apples, a fruit Gawaine is fond of. A vengeful distant relative of the Pellinores tries to poison an apple to get back at Lamorak's killer, but instead an unsuspecting knight is killed. Guenever is blamed for attempting to poison Gawaine, resulting in both parties choosing a champion for the upcoming conflict.
Sir Bors is convinced, albeit unwillingly, to stand up for Guenever. But just before the impending duel, he comes across Lancelot at a close-by monastery. Lancelot steps in for Bors and effortlessly overpowers Guenever's accuser. He shows mercy and lets the defeated knight live, although he firmly demands that the skirmish must not be inscribed on the knight's gravestone if he is poisoned.
When Lancelot stands up for Guenever, Nimue visits the next day. She verifies that Guenever did not poison the knight who lost his life. Nimue's declaration is in accordance with her vow to Merlyn to protect Arthur. Arthur, in response, plans a competition to rejoice over Guenever being cleared of the charges.
Lancelot stops by to see Elaine, who insists he must reside with her now. Accepting Elaine's offer, he decides to display her token, a crimson sleeve, on his helm in the course of the tourney. Lancelot proves himself in battle, but suffers an injury when he is ganged upon by three contestants towards the tournament's conclusion. Upon learning that Lancelot wore Elaine's token, Guenever is consumed by envy and fury, certain that he harbors romantic feelings for Elaine.
Lancelot's arrival back at Camelot leads to a confrontation with Guenever. As Elaine realizes that Lancelot's love for her is over and he will not come back to her, she takes her own life. Her lifeless body is placed on a barge that slowly makes its way to Camelot, presenting a woeful sight for all. Witnessing the demise of her adversary, Guenever is overwhelmed with compassion.
Following Elaine's tragic demise, another joust brings into focus the divisions within the Round Table. Arthur, for the first time, finds himself opposed to Lancelot, whereas Gareth supports Lancelot, even against his own kin. A sudden report reaches Lancelot and Arthur of Guenever's abduction by Sir Meliagrance, a knight who has been harboring a clandestine affection for her.
Meliagrance plans a surprise attack on Lancelot, yet Lancelot successfully navigates it and reaches the castle where Guenever is imprisoned. Aware that he stands no chance against Lancelot in combat, Meliagrance surrenders and pleads for mercy from Guenever. Respecting Guenever's wish, Lancelot decides not to kill Meliagrance.
During the night, Lancelot daringly slices through Guenever’s window bars, marking their first shared bed in ages. In the process, he injures his hand. The subsequent morning, Meliagrance stumbles upon Lancelot's bloodstains on Guenever’s bed. He wrongfully accuses her of having relations with the knights that keep watch over her room, many of whom got hurt during her abduction. Guenever refutes the claim, which is technically true as Lancelot isn't one of her watchmen. Lancelot steps forward to uphold Guenever’s dignity through a duel. Sensing defeat, Meliagrance cunningly confines him in a castle dungeon.
Agravaine has aged significantly, grown overweight and is teetering on the edge of alcoholism. Mordred harbours hatred for Arthur, blaming him for neglecting him as a baby and due to ongoing hostilities between his maternal family and Arthur's lineage. Agravaine's resentment towards Lancelot stems from his numerous defeats at the hands of Lancelot in jousts. They conspire to expose Lancelot's secret relationship with Guenever to Arthur. The intent is to force Arthur into taking action against Lancelot under his newly implemented legal system, inciting a conflict that could potentially lead to their mutual downfall.
Gawaine, Gaheris, and Gareth step into the room and upon discovering Mordred and Agravaine's scheme, Gawaine vehemently objects. Despite Gawaine's disapproval, Mordred disregards him. Agravaine, showcasing his cowardice, draws his weapon against his defenseless sibling, pushing Gawaine to the brink of fury. Gawaine is almost about to slay Agravaine when Arthur barges in, gracing everyone with a genial smile.
Lancelot and Guenever are positioned near a window within the confines of Arthur's fortress. The storyteller paints a picture of the transformed England displayed in front of them. The terrors of yesteryears have been extinguished under Arthur's rule. A bloom of artistic prowess is evident, with diverse populations intermixing on the urban pathways.
Lancelot informs Guenever that Arthur is aware of their illicit relationship but won't penalize them, though Guenever insists they still need to tread with caution. Lancelot struggles with his conflicting love for both Arthur and Guenever. Arthur overhears their conversation but slips away undetected, then returns with a page to announce his arrival. An uncomfortable discussion about the Orkney family ensues among them. Arthur reveals Mordred is his son and confesses to trying to kill Mordred, spurred by dreadful prophecies. Arthur, who was a mere nineteen, had commanded all infants of the same age as Mordred to be cast to sea. However, Mordred miraculously survived. Arthur laments his past actions, cautioning that Mordred, motivated by vengeance and lust for power, might manipulate Guenever or Lancelot against him. He sternly warns that he'll have to enforce the law if he finds either of them conspiring against his kingdom.
Arthur works on creating the new laws in the Justice Room, joined by Gawaine, Gareth, Gaheris, Agravaine, and Mordred. Despite the efforts of Gawaine, Gareth, and Gaheris to silence Agravaine and Mordred about Lancelot and Guenever’s affair, Arthur is informed. They assert that the case should be handled by the new jury laws, not battle. They propose that if evidence of the affair is found, Arthur must legally take it to trial. They plan to trap Lancelot in Guenever’s room during Arthur's hunting trip. Arthur reluctantly agrees, but expresses hope that Lancelot will slay his accusers. He warns Agravaine and Mordred that they will face severe consequences if their claim is unfounded.
When Arthur is absent for the first time, Lancelot intends to visit Guenever. Despite Gareth alerting him about a potential ambush by Mordred and Agravaine in Guenever’s room, Lancelot dismisses his caution.
Lancelot and Guenever share brief, emotional instances until Guenever gets anxious that their secret might be revealed. As she tries to usher Lancelot out, they notice efforts to unlock the door. Mordred, Agravaine, along with twelve fully equipped knights are lurking outside. Lancelot, however, succeeds in slaying Agravaine and taking his weapon and protective gear. He swaps rings with Guenever before confronting his foes.
A week on, Gareth, Gawaine, Gaheris, and Mordred find themselves in the Justice Room. Mordred faces criticism for fleeing from Lancelot, who killed every other knight outside Guenever’s room. Lancelot has since fled back to his fortress, and Guenever has been found guilty of adultery, scheduled to be burned at the stake. The anticipation is high for Lancelot to save her. Under Mordred’s influence, Arthur convinces Gareth and Gaheris to join the group guarding her, although they do so reluctantly and without armor. Just as the execution is about to proceed, Lancelot and his knights swoop in and save Guenever. Both Arthur and Gawaine are overjoyed, with Arthur strategizing on how to mend fences with the parties. But the mood turns grim when Mordred returns from the rescue scene with the news that Lancelot has killed Gareth and Gaheris, who were unarmed. Arthur and Gawaine initially dismiss this report, with Gawaine going to verify the claim and returning devastated after finding the bodies of Gareth and Gaheris.
Half a year on, Lancelot and Guenever find themselves besieged in Lancelot's stronghold, Joyous Gard. Lancelot confesses to Guenever that his memory of slaying Gareth and Gaheris is hazy, although it's plausible it happened amidst the chaos. Guenever concludes that their only hope of rescue, along with Arthur's, is to seek the Church's assistance.
A consensus is reached for a truce, with the Church's involvement. In Camelot, the judgment is imparted by the bishop of Rochester. Lancelot is exiled from England, whilst Guenever is sent back to Arthur. Regardless, Gawaine is adamant in his pursuit for vengeance against Lancelot.
Arthur and Gawaine pursue Lancelot into France, besieging one of his fortresses. Meanwhile, Guenever and her handmaiden Agnes share a knitting session back in England, only to be interrupted by Mordred. His sanity is fleeting, his vanity excessive, and his cruelty substantial. He's established a political faction known as the Thrashers. They bring up old Gaelic conflicts and advocate for violence against Jews. Mordred reveals to Guenever his intentions to declare Arthur and Gawaine dead in France, succeeding them as England's monarch. He further discloses his plan to claim Guenever as his bride.
In the midst of a French battlefield, Arthur's tent serves as a recovery space for Gawaine, who has been bested by Lancelot for the second time. Despite his victories, Lancelot opts not to kill Gawaine. Suddenly, the bishop of Rochester arrives bearing a letter from Guenever, revealing Mordred's treacherous plan. Arthur, shaken by the news, resolves to abandon the siege and rush back to England. Despite his severe injuries, Gawaine is determined to join him, fueled by a desire for vengeance against his traitorous sibling.