The Candle in the Wind
|Author||T. H. White|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-441-00383-4 (paperback edition)|
|LC Class||PR6045.H2 O5 1996|
|Preceded by||The Ill-Made Knight|
|Followed by||The Book of Merlyn|
The Candle in the Wind is the fourth book from the collection The Once and Future King by T. H. White. It deals with the last weeks of Arthur's reign, his dealings with his son Mordred's revolts, Guenever and Lancelot's demise, and his perception of right and wrong.
The story begins with Mordred and Agravaine, both discontent. Mordred hates his father, King Arthur, and Agravaine hates Sir Lancelot. Their views are not shared by Gawaine, Gareth, or Gaheris. The relationship of Lancelot and Guinevere has gone on for some time and everyone in the court knows of it. No one, however, publicly speaks of it as law would require Lancelot to be killed and Guinevere to be burned at the stake.
In order to wreak their revenge, Mordred and Agravaine decide to go to the king and officially charge the Queen with adultery. Troubled by this, King Arthur agrees to leave on a hunting trip to give the knights a chance to catch the Queen with Lancelot, although he does say that if they are caught, he hopes that Lancelot will be able to kill all witnesses and adds that if the two fail in backing their claims, he will see to it that they are pursued by the law themselves.
At the same time, he confesses to Guinevere and Lancelot a terrible secret: When Mordred was born, Arthur had been told by many people that the child would be evil, as a result of the incest. Pressured, the king commanded all babies born in the approximate month Mordred would be born to be placed on a boat which was then sunk. Mordred managed to survive this, however, and Arthur lived with the guilt of causing the death of the other babies.
When the king leaves for his hunting party, Lancelot prepares to sneak over to Guinevere's room. Before he can leave, Gareth visits him and warns him of Mordred and Agravaine's plot. Lancelot receives him warmly, but does not take the threat seriously as he does not believe that Arthur would entertain such an idea. He leaves for the Queen's room without weapons or armor, assuring Gareth that they would all laugh together about this when the king returned.
In Guinevere's room, Lancelot laughingly tells her of Gareth's warning. Unlike him, however, the queen takes the threat seriously and tries to convince the knight to leave before they are caught. Too late, however - they find a group of knights attempting to break into Guinevere's room. Lancelot manages to kill one of them (later revealed to be Agravaine) and takes his weapon and armor to defeat the rest. Mordred, however, escapes to tell Arthur of the Queen's faithlessness. Lancelot is forced to flee Camelot, however promises to return to rescue Guinevere.
Though unwilling to kill his wife, Arthur is obliged to obey his own laws and prepares for her execution. Mordred faces scorn and anger from his brothers, who are furious with him for turning in the queen and accuse him of being a coward for running away from his fight with Lancelot. Arthur later explains to them that Mordred survived because Lancelot was unwilling to kill Arthur's son.
When Mordred learns that Lancelot will return to prevent Guinevere's execution, he demands that Arthur put more guards in the town. While Gawaine refuses to take part in the events, Gareth and Gaheris are stationed as additional guards. Just as Guinevere is about to be burned, Lancelot rides in and rescues her. Much to Gawaine's horror however, it is discovered that in his haste to reach the queen, Lancelot killed Gareth and Gaheris before he could recognize them.
Guinevere and Lancelot flee to France, and request forgiveness from the Pope. It is granted and Guinevere is permitted to return to Camelot. Lancelot remains in France, where Arthur is forced to fight him for honor. During the siege, after several days mornings taunting Lancelot from without as a traitor and coward, Gawaine receives a blow to the head that gravely injures him.
In Camelot, Mordred is left to rule in Arthur's stead. He corners Guinevere and tells her that he intends to overthrow Arthur's rule and take her as his wife (as revenge for Arthur sleeping with Mordred's mother). Guinevere manages to send a message to Arthur and upon hearing the news, Gawaine dies.
Arthur then returns to England to stop Mordred. On the eve of battle, in a state of semi-consciousness, he remembers Merlin's lessons. To make sure that his legacy lives on even if he dies in the battle, he explains his ideas to a young serving boy, Tom of Warwick (implied to be Thomas Malory of Warwickshire). He tells the boy how his idea of peace was like a candle in the wind, which he had kept alight with an effort. The book ends with Arthur sending Tom away to safety, and then he is ready to face the coming battle "with a peaceful heart." Arthur acknowledges that he shall perhaps come again to try to create another perfect Round Table. He remembers before death, the times he spent with Merlyn doing missions. At the thought, Merlyn 'might' have appeared, but he dismissed it for though he is locked up, though in The Book of Merlyn this moment is when Merlyn appears to him and takes Arthur away for a debate on war, humanity etc... We are meant to know already how the battle goes, (see Battle of Camlann). We end on a note of hope as Arthur accepts his fate with a clear mind, as if he is refreshed. Although the details of the battle are not recounted, according to legend all of the knights are killed, and Arthur kills Mordred, and Mordred mortally wounds Arthur. White puts forth both that Arthur died, or the other story where he is set adrift to Avalon where his wounds may be healed that he might rule again.