Sir Gawaine and his brother Gaheris rode out together, knight and squire, after the white hart. Before too long they came across a pair of knights on horseback, jousting.
Gawaine approached, in between the two knights.
“You two random dudes! Take five, and answer my questions!” he shouted. “Have you seen a white hart run through here? An injured white hart?”
The two knights explained that they weren’t just any random pair of dudes, they were brothers. Sir Sorlouse of the Forest and his younger brother Sir Brian of the Forest (Brian of the Forest, that greatest character of the Arthurian canon) had been just hanging out, but then a strange adventure had sprung up around them: the sudden appearance of a white hart, running hard, chased by thirty black hounds and one white hound.
Sorlouse had wanted to chase after the hart, because he could tell straightaway that this was an adventure hook set up for King Arthur’s wedding. He’d reasoned that if he ran down the hart he could take it to the wedding, to which he had not been invited. But as the hart-catcher he’d get to show off, and meet Sir Kay and everybody.
Brian, on the other hand, had wanted to do all of those things himself, on the grounds that he, Brian of the Forest, was a better knight than his brother. So, naturally, they’d started jousting over it.
“Okay, so, first off, dummies, you shouldn’t be fighting,” said Gawaine. “That one’s a no-brainer. Save your violence for foes who aren’t your brother. I’m sure this dictum will never turn around ironically on me. No way will I eventually die in battle against one of my brothers.”
Gaheris nodded, because what were the odds that he and Gawaine (or their presumed-dead infant half-brother Mordred) would ever end up on the opposite sides of an issue?
According to Malory, Sir Gawaine then suggested that they go to King Arthur and apologize to him for fighting one another. Apparently this was a reasonable thing to suggest, because Sorlouse and Brian agreed to it.
At first Gawaine wanted them all to head back to Camelot together, but Brian and Sorlouse lost a lot of blood fighting one another and needed some time to recuperate, so Gawaine decided to press on after the white hart without them. “As soon as y’all are feeling up to it, head to Camelot and apologize to Arthur for being jerks, okay? And let him know that Gawaine sent you!”
So the one set of brothers went one way as the other set of brothers went another, and Gawaine and Gaheris arrived at the next scene.
A great rushing river! Hella majestic! The hart spotted! Even as Gawaine approached, it swam to the other side, black hounds still chasing it.
“My lucky day!” cried Gawaine. He made to cross the river, but paused when another knight appeared over on the far bank.
“Give up!” shouted the other knight. “Do not chase this hart over here or else we’ll have a fight! For no reason whatsoever!”
“Screw you!” shouted Gawaine back, and swam across. Or, to be more precisely correct, he made his horse to carry him over the water.
Sure enough, Gawaine and this other knight fought, blah blah, Gawaine fought competently, blah blah, other knight was soon dehorsed.
“Give up?” asked Gawaine.
“No!” said the other knight.
“Well I’ll just kill you then! Also what’s your name?” asked Gawaine.
“I am Sir Allardin of the Isles!”
So Gawaine dismounted and they did the part of the joust where you fight on foot. If this was the story of Sir Allardin then maybe there’d have been another outcome, but no. Gawaine knocked his block, as they say, off. It’s messy.
Gaheris complimented Gawaine on the helmet-crushed-into-brainpan finishing move he’d just pulled off. Unfortunately by the time Allardin was dead the hart was long gone, so Gawaine and Gaheris moved on. It was at about this point that Gaheris decided to release the dogs.
Yeah, Malory totally forgot to mention this, but it turns out they brought dogs! Six greyhounds, specifically. The greyhounds dashed on ahead and caught up to the hart easily. The thirty black hounds that had been chasing it are no more, for whatever reason; it was down to just Gaheris’s greyhounds and the hart. The dogs chased the hart into a castle tucked away in the woods, in the central courtyard of which they cornered the hart, laid into it, and killed it.
Before Sir Gawaine and Gaheris caught up to the dogs, this racket from the death of the hart alerted the knight who lived in the castle. That guy stormed out, sword drawn! He lay into the dogs and started killing them. All the while he cursed them out about the hart; apparently it had been his hart, and a present from his queen. A pretty terrible present, I’d say, but what do I know?
Gawaine and Gaheris showed up just as the four or so surviving greyhounds ran off with their tails tucked between their legs. Of course Sir Gawaine was pissed that this knight took it upon himself to kill their dogs, wouldn’t you be? He drew his sword and advanced on the knight. “What the hell, dude? You killed my dogs!”
“Yeah I killed your dogs,” said the knight. “They killed my hart!”
“They’re my dogs!” spit Gawaine. “If you’re going to revenge yourself on someone, revenge yourself on me!”
“Don’t mind if I do!” shouted the knight, and he and Gawaine started sword-fighting.
One short fight later, the knight lay on the ground, bleeding from several wounds, begging Gawaine not to kill him. It was pretty pathetic.
“I’m so sorry! Have mercy! Look into your heart! I’m so sorry! I’ll make it up to you, anything you want, just let me live, look into your heart!” Wailing, moaning, gnashing of teeth.
“What heart?” muttered Gawaine. He wound up to decapitate this knight the same way he decapitated Sir Allardin in the previous chapter. But then — oh no! — It’s this knight’s wife! She ran up, she screamed, she ran straight into Gawaine’s sword! Oh, it’s pretty bloody.
Apparently knights accidentally killing ladies used to happen kind of a lot. Gawaine didn’t even realize he’d hit her at first. I guess she ran up behind him, straight into his backswing? But when he saw her body lying there, well man, that took the wind out of his sails I can tell you.
“Oh, bad on you, Gawaine,” said Gaheris. “Boo, Gawaine. Boo. You just know that’s going to come back to haunt you. You better be nice to people from now on, starting with this guy.”
“Yeah,” said Gawaine. “Wow. Sorry, dude. I mean, from the way Malory describes it she appears to have run straight into my sword mid-chop, which one might interpret as a lot of things, the wife heroically taking the blow for her husband even, but we’re all going to call it misadventure. So, bad on me, I guess. I’ll give you mercy after all.”
“You just killed my wife!” The knight was stunned. “I don’t actually want your mercy any more. First you kill my hart, then you kill my wife, what the hell is the matter with you?”
“Look I said I was sorry,” Gawaine said, a little testily. “I was trying to kill you, not her. I didn’t even see her. Listen, go to Camelot and tell King Arthur this whole story, he’ll know what to do. This is above my pay grade.”
“What? No, no, I’m not your errand-boy, I’m Sir Ablamar of the Marsh!” said the knight. “I don’t care if you do kill me after all, I’m not carrying off your message to King Arthur!”
“If you don’t I will, in fact, kill you,” said Gawaine.
“Oh, really? Well, I’ll do it, then,” said Sir Ablamar. “But I don’t like it.”
So Ablamar mounted up with a couple of dead greyhounds and headed back to Camelot, and Gawaine went inside Ablamar’s and his wife’s castle, to lie down for a while. It’d been a whole big thing. Normally when Malory brings in a damsel or wife or maiden and doesn’t give her a name I step up to the plate, but I don’t have the heart to give Ablamar’s wife a name. She literally ran in from offscreen and died, in such a transparent women-in-refrigerators moment that even the characters in the story seemed a little sickened by it.
In Ablamar’s castle, Sir Gawaine lay down, but he couldn’t get comfortable what with his armor and his sword and his extra sword and his dagger and his mace. He started to take all that stuff off, when Gaheris protested.
“Whoa! Gawaine, brother, seriously, you’re going to remove your armor? We’re in hostile territory here, man, you don’t know who might show up at any moment!”
No sooner had he said this then, as so often happens in Malory, his concern was immediately demonstrated as well-founded. Four knights appeared from nowhere and started assailing at Gawaine, assailing at him hard.
“Jackass!” cried one.
“Foul knight!” cried another.
“You shouldn’t even be a knight!” said the third. “Knights are guys who are merciful and don’t go around murdering ladies!”
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” shouted the fourth. “If you have no mercy then we’ll have no mercy for you, I tell you what! Get out here so we can beat on you!”
So Gawaine and Gaheris sprang out and there was a fight! Maybe it’s because Gaheris was like twelve, maybe it’s because they were outnumbered two to one, maybe it’s because an archer from out of nowhere and started peppering Gawaine and Gaheris with arrows and Gawaine took one hard in the bicep of his swording arm, but before too long the four knights had the brothers down on their knees, about to strike the killing blows. Then suddenly a thing happened!
Four ladies ran onto the scene and somehow were not accidentally slain by the four knights on their backswings. No, these four ladies beseeched the four knights to be better men than Gawaine and Gaheris, and show mercy after all, and the knights agreed and took Gawaine and Gaheris prisoner.
“This sucks,” said Gawaine, once he and Gaheris were ensconced in a cell.
“You think this sucks? You at least have armor and get to call yourself a knight,” said Gaheris. “I’ve got it way worse than you. I didn’t even kill anybody, remember, and here I’m paying the penalty for your crimes!”
“Don’t be that way,” whined Gawaine. “Anyway my arm really hurts, it’s probably going to get gangrene and have to be chopped off.”
“Whatever,” said Gaheris.
“I’m related to King Arthur, you know? This shouldn’t be happening to me!”
“Gah, dude, I am just as related to him as you are, and I didn’t kill anyone and also I have to listen to you whine.”
Early the next morning the lead lady of the foursome, Carmen let’s say, went to the little gaol in the castle. “Listen,” she said. “We heard you complaining all night. What the hell is the matter with you, you whiny little baby?”
Gawaine just moaned and whined some more.
“This is your own fault,” pointed out Carmen. “You killed Mrs. Sir Ablamar, and she did nothing to you, nothing to deserve it. Mrs. Sir Ablamar was a fine woman! You’ll suffer for what you’ve done, in this world and the next! Boo! Boo!”
Gaheris may or may not have joined in, Malory doesn’t say.
“Anyway, that being said…” Carmen cleared her throat. “Are you truly related to King Arthur? Last night you kept bawling out how this shouldn’t be happening to you because you’re related to King Arthur.”
“Yeah, so what, leave us alone.”
“What’s your name and how are you related to him?”
“Not telling,” said Gawaine.
“Fine then, I’ll just have one of my four knights — all of whom are grumpy because your caterwauling kept them up all night, by the way — pay you a visit with, say, this executioner’s axe.” Carmen hefted the weapon threateningly, then remembered that what with this being Malory, women aren’t supposed to touch weapons, and she set it down.
“Whatever,” said Gawaine. “You don’t scare me. But entirely of my free will and own choosing I’ll tell you what you want to know. I’m Sir Gawaine, the son of Lot of Orkney and Margawse, King Arthur’s sister.”
“So Arthur is your uncle, and a blood relation,” mused Carmen.
“Yes,” said Gawaine. “I just said that. I’m his favorite nephew.”
“Hey! I’m right here!”
“He didn’t knight you,” Gawaine reminded Gaheris.
Carmen went back far a chat with the other three ladies and four knights. None of them wanted to be on Arthur’s bad side, so they decided to just send Sir Gawaine back to Camelot and hope for the best. They put him back on a horse, with Gaheris, and with the body of Mrs. Sir Ablamar, so that Arthur would see what a terrible thing Gawaine did. Sort of like sending a kid home from school with an F on a test and a demand for a parental signature. Gawaine wanted the white hart, since that was his quest in the first place, and Carmen reluctantly handed that over, too.
CUT TO Camelot, where Merlin had cast zone of truth on Gawaine. Sir Gawaine spilled out his entire shameful, shameful story, with the lack of mercy and the killing of Mrs. Sir Ablamar, and all.
Arthur was furious. “First of all, no more killing ladies for two weeks. No, no, a month! Furthermore, I want a written apology to Mrs. Sir Ablamar!” Arthur had never had to discipline a knight before; he didn’t really know how.
“I’ll handle this. And by the way, I can’t believe that when I finally get lines,” said Guenever, “this is the context. I didn’t expect a rose garden, but I did think I’d be in the loop at least.” Guenever snapped her fingers and a cadre of her ladies-in-waiting appeared.
“Ladies!” she cried, pointing to Gawaine. “You see this miserable specimen of the knighthood? I’m releasing you from all your usual waiting duties. You have a new job. Follow this one around, for the rest of his life, and make sure he’s being kind, gentle, virtuous, and above all courteous to ladies, at all times. His parole begins immediately, you are his parole officers, and will continue as such until you retire, in which case we’ll name replacement parole officers, until such time as Gawaine dies, probably of shame. The only time he is ever permitted to act against any woman is if another woman tells him to, such that he as her champion fights another lady’s champion. I, Guenever, have spoken. So mote it be!”
“Wow,” said Arthur.
“And that is how you make a speech,” said Guenever. “You’re welcome.”
Thus ends the Tale of Gawaine. Spoiler alert: for whatever reason, Guenever’s sentence on Sir Gawaine was not carried out. It’s a real shame, too, because man, did he ever get himself into scrapes where he could have really used a cadre of ladies-in-waiting to serve as his conscience.