Study Guide

The Once and Future King Book 2, Chapter 1

By T.H. White

Book 2, Chapter 1

  • Book 2 is called The Queen of Air and Darkness. Yes: that's supposed to sound crazy-ominous.
  • In a drafty tower filled with only stones for furniture live four children, who do not even have a bed to sleep on.
  • Their mother is in the room below, and the children speak quietly, afraid that she will hear them.
  • These children aren't really afraid of being beaten. Also, their mother hasn't raised them with a solid sense of what's right and what's wrong.
  • These four children speak in a weird mixture of Gaelic and language relating to chivalry. Currently, they don't know English. Eventually, they will become famous knights and will of course speak English.
  • Well, all except Gawain, who will keep his Scottish accent since he is to be the head of his clan. That'll stick it to the English.
  • Gawain is currently telling his brothers a story that begins with their grandmother, Igraine, Countess of Cornwall.
  • King Uther Pendragon falls in love with her, even though she's already married (to the boys' grandfather).
  • Agravaine and Gaheris keep interrupting, and a squabble breaks out.
  • Gawain continues the story: Igraine demands that her husband take her away from Uther's castle, because he is bent upon dishonoring her.
  • After much arguing, Gawain assures the boys that their Granny and Grandfather rode all night back to Cornwall, but did not kill their horses (they almost did, though).
  • Then, Uther Pendragon laid siege to the Earl of Cornwall's castle. Only problem is, the Earl had two castles: Castle Tintagil and Castle Terrabil. The boys are understandably proud of this.
  • The boys speculate that there were probably two thousand—or even a million—people killed during this siege, because the Gael are just that fierce.
  • During this siege, an evil wizard named Merlyn came along, and used his dark arts to get Uther Pendragon inside the Earl's castle, where Igraine was staying.
  • At the same time, the Earl was killed.
  • Pendragon then kidnapped Igraine, who had three daughters: Elaine, Morgan, and Mammy (the boys' mother).
  • The upshot is that Granny was forced to marry Uther. This is the boys' mother's fave story. It makes for great bedtime reading.
  • The boys' mother is in the room below, along with her cat and an iron cauldron. This isn't looking so good.
  • There's a cat tied up, and things aren't looking optimistic for the animal. Mammy is apparently getting ready to use it for a magical spell of some sort. It's just the way Mammy likes to spend her time when the menfolk are away at war.
  • But: the Queen isn't a serious witch or anything like that. Not like her sister, Morgan le Fay (whom we briefly met in her food castle in Book 1).
  • Let's cut to the chase and just say that the Queen Morgause (we finally get her name here) boils the cat alive for some whatever this magical spell is.
  • Meanwhile, back upstairs, the boys are still telling their story and stewing over the unfairness of how their Granny was abducted and their people killed.
  • And back downstairs the cat has dissolved in the boiling water. She strains the leftovers, looking for a particular bone—which can make you invisible.
  • Strangely enough, this bone is very difficult to find, so searching for it has to be done in front of a mirror.
  • It's not that the Queen particularly wants to be invisible. She doesn't, really, because then what would be the point of her beauty? Besides—it gives her an excuse to check herself out in the mirror for quite awhile. She's quite full of herself.
  • Soon, Morgause tires of going through the bones, and lies down on the bed, unable to sleep.
  • Back upstairs, Gawain is summing up the story: it's the whole reason that the people of Cornwall and Orkney must be enemies of the Kings of England forever and ever and ever. And most of all, must hate the Pendragons.
  • Which is why their dad is off fighting against Arthur (remember: there are some people who aren't thrilled that Arthur is now King).
  • So, there's apparently a feud between Gawain's family and Arthur's family, which never turns out well. Just ask the Hatfields and McCoys. Or the Capulets and Montagues.
  • We're left with this sad tidbit: the boys love their mother—truly adore her—but she doesn't really give them the time of day.

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