A year later, at the next Pentecost, we once again find Arthur anxiously awaiting the annual strange adventure. Finally a page came in.
“It’s cool, sire!” the page told him. “There’s a girl here with a strange adventure!”
Now this girl’s name was Linet, but Malory can’t be bothered to reveal that until halfway through the story, so, consider yourself lucky that you’ve got me. Arthur came out to meet her.
“I hear you’ve got a strange adventure,” Arthur said. “Spill.”
“Oh, sire,” she said. “I know a lady, whose castle is under siege by a great villain, and I have come here, to Camelot (unless this is Caerlaeon or Winchester or London), to beg you and your knights, renowned as the greatest in the world, to save her.”
“Hmm. All right. This lady, what’s her name?”
“It’s a secret to everybody.”
“Hmm.” Arthur was getting pretty sick of people and their secret name bull hockey.
“But I can tell you, she’s a lady of great renown!” Linet gestured with her hands in the shape of an enormous pile of money. “And rich! And she’s under attack by the Red Knight of the Red Lands!”
“Never heard of him,” said Arthur. “Anyone? Anyone know about this Red Knight?”
Sir Gawaine raised his hand. “I jousted him once, Uncle. He’s as strong as seven men and nearly killed me. I was lucky to get away.”
“Fair enough. Guy exists, check. So, damosel,” Arthur said, turning back to Linet, “where is your mystery lady? I’ll send some knights after her.”
“That’s a secret also,” said Linet.
“I can’t tell you!”
“Okay, so, what you’re saying to me is, just so I understand, you came here hoping to recruit aid for a woman with a secret name who is under attack in a secret place.”
“That is correct, yes, sire.”
“I’m thinking no.”
“But I could escort a knight there…”
“Yeah, no. No.”
“I’m not taking no for an answer! I can’t leave without a knight!” cried Linet.
At this point in the conversation Beaumains/Prettyboy/Gareth decides to make his move. “Sire!” he cried.
“What?” Arthur snapped. He’s unused to interruptions coming from the help. “Oh, it’s Prettyboy.”
“Aye, sire. For a year I have been Prettyboy, serving in your kitchen, which was the first of my three humble demands. Now I must make my other two requests for presents.”
“Now is not a great time, Prettyboy.”
“I ask only that you allow me to accompany this damosel on her extremely nebulously-defined strange adventure, and also that you lend me Sir Launcelot.”
Arthur laughed. “Let me get this straight. You want me to send you off with this girl, which, that one’s easy. But you also want Launcelot?”
“He won’t be participating in my strange adventure,” explained Beaumains. “He’ll just knight me, when the time is right.”
“This is borderline stupid,” said Arthur. “I’m glad it’s not my strange adventure. Of course, I say that about every strange adventure. Fine, go. Have fun.”
“Wait, no, hold on!” Linet protested. “I didn’t come here to get King Arthur’s kitchen-boy! I came to get a knight! If I can’t get a knight, I’m leaving!” She stormed off, straight out of Camelot.
“And so ends this year’s strange adventure,” said Arthur, as he watches her ride away. “Nice short one. I’m glad I came up with this system for offloading strange adventures onto other knights and condensing them down to one day a year.”
“Not so fast!” cried Peter the dwarf, who popped up from nowhere.
“Peter! Where have you been for the last year?” asked Gawaine.
“It’s not addressed! But, I have Prettyboy’s armor with me. Also his golden cloak and horse! A whole knight kit, here in this box!”
This caused a stir in the court; everyone was amazed by this unexpected turn of events. A golden cloak for the seven-foot-tall kitchen boy? It must have been a strange adventure, all right.
Prettyboy donned the armor and mounted up. He took his leave of King Arthur and Sir Gawaine and Sir Launcelot (and reminded Launcelot to come along after him so as to knight him at the appropriate time; no, I don’t know why Sir Launcelot couldn’t just leave with him).
Once he’d gone, King Arthur’s court buzzed with rumors of Prettyboy and his strange adventure and his horse and armor and golden cloak all out of nowhere, after a year of slaving away in the kitchens for Sir Kay.
“You know, he didn’t get a spear or a shield,” observed Kay. “I think I’ll go hassle him about that, just to remind him what a dick I’ve been to him for no very good reason.”
“Seriously?” chorused Sir Launcelot and Sir Gawaine. And Kay, dude, if you’re talking about going off to be a dick and Sir Gawaine thinks it’s a bad idea? Reconsider, my man. Reconsider. I’ve been sticking up for you all through Book I through VI, Kay. You’ve been a good egg, a solid ally of Arthur’s, and not at all a peevish jackass. This is plainly your low point.
For whatever reason, Kay fully committed to Operation BE A DICK. He hopped onto his horse and rode after Prettyboy with his own spear, shield, et cetera. Prettyboy, himself had ridden off after Linet. All three of them converged at once, up the road.
“Yo! Prettyboy!” called Kay. “Recognize me?”
Prettyboy turned about and saw him. “Yeah, I recognize you! You’re Sir Kay, who belittled me daily for a year!”
“Yeah, exactly! Check this out! I’m being a jerk for some reason!” Kay leveled his spear and hefted his shield and got all jousty, which is dirty pool since Prettyboy didn’t have a spear of his own.
However! Prettyboy did have a sword, which he’d received from Peter and which Malory just hasn’t mentioned up to this point. Prettyboy’d had it the whole time, Malory swears. Prettyboy pulled out this sword, charged Kay, and somehow, even though a spear has better reach than a sword and that’s exactly why knights used spears and lances from horseback, somehow Prettyboy dehorsed Kay and knocked him unconscious (so how old is the hoary trope of conking someone on the head and they pass out, only to come to some time later wholly uninjured with no permanent harm? At least 500 years old).
With Kay down and out, Prettyboy snatched up his shield and spear, solving the no-spear, no-shield problem. But then Prettyboy had other problems! One, Linet had left mid-joust. She did not stick around for the knight-on-knight horseplay. Two, this was the point when Launcelot and Peter arrived.
Launcelot looked down at Kay, passed out in the middle of the road. He clucked his tongue. “Okay, listen, Peter, take Kay and his horse back to Camelot, all right?”
Peter understood; he’d had plenty of experience cleaning up after other knights’ messes. He hauled Kay off.
Meanwhile Prettyboy and Launcelot jousted. This was entirely Prettyboy’s idea, and I don’t get why on earth he thought it was a good plan. Launcelot never lost. That was his whole thing. But at this stage in his career he was not one to turn down a chance to joust, our boy Launcelot. Soon enough they were going at it. Of course Launcelot was the better knight. Prettyboy did all right for himself, though, especially considering he was up against the best knight ever. Malory takes pains to explain that Prettyboy was almost as good as Launcelot, but not quite.
After Launcelot dehorsed Prettyboy, he offered to end the joust there, but Prettyboy wanted to do the on-foot swording part too, so they did that for a while, and then Launcelot was like, okay, Prettyboy, you made your point.
“You fight more liker a giant than a knight,” Launcelot told him. “Your jousting ability is durable and passing perilous.” In fact, Launcelot dreaded himself to be shamed, which is to say, for a minute there it seemed like there might have been a nontrivial chance of Prettyboy actually defeating him!
Launcelot didn’t want his perfect record broken, so he offered again to call it a draw. Prettyboy jumped at the chance, because Prettyboy knew he was very likely to lose otherwise. He was pleased with his performance, regardless. “It doth me good to feel your might, and yet my lord, I showed not the utterance.“
“Yeah, you fought hard, kiddo,” agreed Launcelot. “You shouldn’t be afraid of any other knights, with jousting prowess like that.”
“Did I do well enough to be knighted? I did, didn’t I? I did! Please knight me now!”
“Hmm, yeah, okay.” Launcelot pulled out his sword. “By the power invested in me as King Arthur’s duly appointed representative in all things, including but not limited to the queen’s bedchamber, which is perhaps how I justify my ongoing affair with his wife, the author is just speculating here… I hereby dub thee Sir… hold on. I can’t call you Sir Prettyboy.”
“Promise not to tell anyone?”
“I’m Gareth, the brother of Sir Gawaine, Sir Gaheris, and Sir Mordred. They don’t know it’s me! I don’t want special treatment from Uncle Sire. And don’t tell Mom I ran off to become a knight!”
Launcelot shook his head. “Sure. Your secret’s safe with me. I dub thee Sir Gareth.” Sword-tap on the shoulder, and it was done.
Sir Gareth and Launcelot shook hands, and then went their separate ways. Launcelot returned to Kay and Peter and their horses; they all went back to Camelot together. Kay spent a good long while convalescing from his beating at the hands of Gareth, and everyone scolded him for being such a dick to poor Prettyboy, and mistreating strangers.
Gareth caught up with Linet, again. She was not happy to see him.
“I already ditched you twice,” Linet told him. “Take the hint! What are you doing here? Why do you keep following me? You filthy kitchen boy, with your greasy clothes! Did you think that because you murdered that nice Sir Kay I’d accept you as a real knight? That’s a big NO! You killed him in a totally unfair fight! You didn’t have a spear so it wasn’t a regulation joust anyway. Go home, Prettyboy!”
“Ma’am,” said Gareth, “King Arthur authorized me to participate in your strange adventure and that’s what I’m going to do. So either we go on your adventure, or I just chase you around forever until one of us dies. I don’t think either of us want that.”
“Screw you, Prettyboy, you kitchen boy! You’re a kitchen boy! You think my strange adventure is all about cooking broth? ‘Cause it’s not. It’s a real adventure, like you need to be a knight for.”
“I’m going to do it, though,” said Gareth.