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Summary and Notes
Guenever is at Carlisle Castle, alone, and nervous. She is worried about Mordred, about Arthur, about Lancelot. She gossips with her maid, Agnes, about happenings abroad.
Gawaine has ignored Lancelot’s request and waged war on France; he and Lancelot have dueled. War is now general in Europe, fueled by Mordred’s nationalist propaganda and the King’s tired obedience. Guenever explains: “The King likes Lancelot so much that he is forced to be unfair to him.” In other words, the King cannot refuse to fight Lancelot because it would smack of favoritism and make him a hypocrite.
Apparently Gawaine taunted Lancelot outside of his castle in France until the knight relented and agreed to fight Gawaine. Lancelot gave Gawaine a hard blow on the head, but did not kill him; this act of mercy recalls Lancelot’s greatest as a knight in Book Three - like Arthur, his sense of Justice is primary.
The discussion turns to Mordred, and both the Queen and Agnes express ambivalence about his moral character and fear. Both women become increasingly uneasy, and Agnes speculates that Mordred could be listening to them now. They become frightened, and Guenever asks Agnes to open the door to her chamber, she does, and Mordred is there.
Both women jump in fright; Agnes leaves and Mordred enters. The author notes that the fierce cynicism in Mordred's eyes has been replaced by a madness - he is insane. He begins immediately implying that he and the Queen are lovers and the Guenever attempts to remain dignified despite her fear and revulsion.
After a few minutes of banter, Mordred tells her his plan: he is going to announce the death of the King - a lie, of course - take over the kingdom, and marry Guenever. Guenever is horrified and helpless.