So fade to black, cut to commercial, and fade back in with Linet tromping across the countryside and Gareth trailing on behind her. The implication is that they had been going like this for quite a while. As they pass through a forest, suddenly a yokel came running out of the underbrush!
“Whoa, yokel,” cried Gareth. “Where you up to in such a hurry?
“O knight, thank God I found you,” said the yokel.
“He’s not really a knight!” hissed Linet.
“O knight, in a glade not far yonder a half-dozen churls attacked my boss and bound him hand and foot, and not in a sexy way!”
“I said, he’s not really a knight!”
But Gareth headed over to the glade and attacked the six churls and killed three of them and the other three tried to run but he killed them, too. Knights killing fleeing opponents is something I wasn’t expecting when I cracked Le Morte D’Arthur open, by the way. Apparently the knightly code of conduct doesn’t condone killing someone who surrenders, but someone who runs is fair game.
Afterwards the lord he’d rescued thanked Gareth and invited him home to dinner. However Linet had already started on down the road again, so Gareth apologized and declined and went back to chasing after her. She told him again to get lost because he was a lousy kitchen boy instead of a proper knight, but then the lord chased her down, too, and invited her to dinner and stay the night, which she accepted, which means Gareth did too.
Linet was rude at dinner, complaining about having to share the dining room table with a kitchen boy. “Him beseemeth better to stick a swine than to sit afore a damosel of high parage,” she said. Her shrewishness annoyed the lord, so he moved with Gareth over to a sideboard, leaving Linet alone.
You know, Linet is Malory’s first attempt at a female character in a while. Do you think she’s so unpleasant on purpose, or did she just come out that way because Malory can’t write women at all?
The next morning Linet and Gareth got back on the road. Through woods and over hills they traveled, eventually arriving at a wide river. There’s a ford, but a pair of knights guarded it.
“There’s two of them, Prettyboy,” said Linet. “You going to just turn around and go back to the kitchens, now?”
“Heck no,” said Gareth. “Two to one? No problem! I could take on eight guys!” He charged forward and fought the knights, both at once, out in the middle of the ford. Gareth dehorsed one and threw him into the water, where he drowned. The other knight then pulled back to the riverbank, where he and Gareth sword-fought until Gareth knocked his helmet (and head) off.
“See? Let’s go,” he told Linet.
She sniffed dismissively. “Those poor knights, slain by a kitchen boy. You probably think you killed through prowess at arms, you silly, stupid man. But no, Prettyboy, I saw it clearly: the first one slipped in the water and drowned, and the other was looking the other way and you came up behind him and killed him with a trick.”
“You know, lady, I’m starting to tire of your attitude,” muttered Gareth. “I am seven feet tall, after all.”
“What was that?”
“Don’t get any ideas, farm boy, I mean assistant pig-keeper, I mean moisture farmer, I mean kitchen boy. I don’t care if you live or die. It’s not as if I liked you or anything, but just for your own good, maybe you should turn around and go home, because otherwise you’ll get yourself killed.”
“I’m following you, milady, come what may.”
Gareth and Linet crossed the river and enter a countryside which was all black. It was like the lair of a villain from the 1966 Batman TV show, it was so heavily themed: there were black trees, from which hung black banners. There was a black shield upon the black earth, and a big black spear sticking up. There was a big black stallion all in black silk tied to a black stone. On the horse: a knight in black armor with a black saddle.
Helpfully, Malory tells us this knight is the Black Knight of the Black Lands. Thanks, Malory. Wouldn’t have guessed that.
“He’ll kill you! Run for it, Prettyboy!” cried Linet.
“What? No! I am not running!” said Gareth. “Why do you insist that I can’t joust, despite all the evidence? I fought Sir Launcelot to a draw, for crying out loud!”
“Ho ho ho,” rumbled the Black Knight, all Santa-style. “So you’ve brought a champion from Camelot, have you? Big fella, seven feet tall!”
“No, no, no, Black Knight,” said Linet. “This is just a kitchen boy. He keeps following me. Really, you’d be doing me a favor if you killed him. But don’t try to kill him. I’ve seen him defeat almost a dozen knights by now, all through staggeringly bad luck on the part of his opponents. The man is a jinx, is what he is.”
“Really,” said the Black Knight. “I’m amazed gentry have anything to do with him.”
“Well, he’s with me.” Linet shrugged. “That’s probably why the lord a few paragraphs back invited him to dinner. He just assumed Prettyboy here was a real knight, because he was escorting a real damosel.”
“Mmmmaybe,” said the Black Knight. “I suspect a trick. I’ll let your boy Prettyboy go, if he surrenders his horse and armor and weapon.”
Linet thought this was a good deal, but Sir Gareth wouldn’t have it. “I bet you’d like my horse. It’s a good horse. But you aren’t getting my horse! Now I’m going to cross the Black country, because that’s where Linet is going, and either you can let me do it, or we can fight.”
“That so?” The Black Knight considered. “She says you’re a kitchen boy and she’d like to be rid of you. Maybe she’d be better off riding with me, instead of a churl.”
“Oh! Oh! You calling me a churl? It is on!”
And so Sir Gareth and the Black Knight jousted.
I don’t feel like describing the fight in agonizing detail, so suffice to say Gareth won, although he was injured in the process. With the Black Knight slain, Gareth claimed his horse and changed into his armor because it was nicer than the armor that Peter had supplied Gareth with when they’d left Camelot. He caught up with Linet, who’d tried to ditch him again.
“Go away, Prettyboy, you stink of jousting and bloodshed. Alas! That such a knight as the Black Knight should die of a sudden brain aneurysm in the middle of jousting a churl such as yourself. Or maybe he had a stroke. In any case, you’re a jinx. For your own good, I beg you Prettyboy, go home before you’re killed.”
Gareth sighed. “I may be slain, but unless that happens, I’m sticking with you on this strange adventure, Linet. You keep saying I’ll get myself killed, and it’s my foes who keep ending up on the ground. Not that it keeps you from chastising me.”
This is getting repetitive, so I’m going to sum up. Basically Gareth and Linet moved on through the Black Lands and arrive in the Green Lands, where they met the Green Knight, who wanted to avenge the death of his brother the Black Knight, and there was a green horn and a green shield and a green spear and green banners and so on. And it basically went just like the last encounter, except that at the end, this time, Gareth had the Green Knight on the rocks, and the Green Knight surrendered.
“I’ll accept your surrender and grant you your life only if milady chooses to accept it,” said Gareth. “Linet, do you wish I should spare this knight his life?”
Linet refused, on the grounds that the Green Knight was not actually in danger. Although Gareth had him on his knees with his helmet off, surely the Green Knight was actually winning. He was, after all, a knight, while Gareth was a mere kitchen boy. There was a bit of tension there: would Gareth just kill the dude, then?
But no, it all worked out. Gareth accepted the Green Knight’s surrender. They all went back to the Green Castle together, where the Green Knight offered them a huge dinner. He told Gareth that he and his vassals would be at Gareth’s service, and congratulated Gareth on being such a tremendous knight.
You might think this would’ve impressed Linet, but only if you hadn’t been paying attention up to this point. She went off on this whole spiel about knights who were better than Gareth — some we’ve heard a fair amount about, like Sir Launcelot and Sir Tristram, and some we haven’t, like Sir Wade and Sir Lamorak. One last time she tried to talk Gareth into going home, and one last time he refused.
And so they came, at last, to the Red Lands, and the Pass Perilous. This place requires a little bit of description; it’s moderately Tolkeinesque. You’ve got a big tower, with walls around it, and another set of walls around that. The whole thing was made of shining white stone, and the gate into the tower grounds had fifty brightly painted shields hung up over it. Outside, in the Pass Perilous itself, we’ve got a nice lawn, not very perilous at all, and it was all decked out for (what else?) a jousting tournament. I know you saw that one coming. And all along these walls and at the windows of the tower, that’s where the spectators were. The spectators for this coming jousting tournament were all arrayed out in sets of three: one knight, one damosel, and one dwarf, except for the very top of the high tower, where the Red Knight himself sat and glared out at the world outside.
When the Red Knight saw Gareth and Linet riding up into the Pass Perilous, he was thrilled! “At last, it’s a knight! The one missing piece of my jousting tournament: an opponent!” He geared up and rode out to meet them, all excited about the coming joust.
He was disappointed when he saw Gareth in the Black Knight’s armor; he assumed Gareth was the Black Knight. He had no interest in jousting the Black Knight, as they were brothers.
“Bro!” he cried. “What’s up?”
“Ha! No no no,” shouted Linet, before Gareth can get a word in edgewise. “This seven-foot-tall guy isn’t your bro! Prettyboy here isn’t even a knight! He’s just a kitchen boy from Camelot!”
“Whoa,” said the Red Knight. “So you’re not the Black Knight?”
“He is so not the Black Knight! He killed the Black Knight! And Sir Kay gave him the derisive nickname Prettyboy and he won’t leave me alone and the two of you should fight already because he also defeated the Green Knight!”
“Whoa, lady, you say he defeated the Green Knight?”
“Yeah! So fight him, because he’s not a knight and so surely you’ll defeat him easily and then I’ll finally be rid of him! It’s not like I like him or anything! I don’t even care!”
According to Malory, Gareth was silent this whole time. Just let Linet do all the talking.
SMASH CUT to a couple of hours later. Gareth and the Red Knight had been jousting together at the conveniently-already-set-up tournament for hours (I’ll go ahead and call that JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 13!), and they were on a two-minute break. Linet watched from the stands.
“Oh, you poor Red Knight!” she cried. Back in Camelot she had said wanted the Red Knight dead, but in the moment she was rooting for him. But never fear, there was a reason that would become clear in time. “You poor, poor dear. It’s so noble of you to generously permit Prettyboy to live for a little while longer! He’s just a poor kitchen boy and I know you could destroy him whenever you wanted!”
The Red Knight, having not read the previous half-dozen chapters, assumed that Linet was being sarcastic. (This is as close to breaking the fourth wall as Malory ever gets.) Pissed, he rode in hard on Gareth and wounded him, but Gareth countered at the last minute and wounded the Red Knight! Shocking turnaround!
“Oh, fine! I surrender! Mercy! Mercy!” shouted the Red Knight. “I give up! You win! I hereby disclaim all rights to avenge the Black Knight or the Green Knight or any other colors of knight. I’ll even spot you fifty knights, how about that? Fifty knights, from me to you, no strings attached!”
“Feh,” said Gareth. “Your life isn’t mine to spare or take — it belongs to milady Linet. Milady, what say you?”
“Euuugggh,” Linet groaned. “I can’t believe this jeez man oh jeez. Don’t kill him, Prettyboy, I guess. I mean, he’s a knight, technically, obviously not a very good one since you a mere kitchen boy were able to defeat him –“
“So you concede that I defeated him? Yes!” Gareth did a fist-pump. “Score one for Prettyboy!”
“I can live, then? That’s where we landed on that?” the Red Knight asked.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” said Gareth. “Now give a nice thank-you to milady Linet.”
And so the Red Knight kneeled and thanked Linet. He led her and Gareth into his tower at the Pass Perilous, where they had a huge feast and a big party and lots of ladies and knights. Sixty knights swore fealty to Gareth, because Malory forgot the Red Knight had promised fifty knights and not sixty. Gareth, as knights are wont to do, declined to have these knight accompany him on the rest of his strange adventure, and sent them to Camelot instead. Linet spent the whole feast belittling Gareth, calling him kitchen boy and so on, and afterwards the Red Knight took Gareth aside and was like, what’s up with that? Or, as Malory puts it, the Red Knight had great marvel of Linet’s behavior.
Anyway, the next morning, with the Red Knight defeated alongside the Black Knight and the Green Knight, Gareth and Linet rode on through the Red Lands and the Indigo Lands beyond. The whole time Gareth had Linet chiding him in the foulest manner.
So, just to clarify: when Linet had asserted that the Red Knight of the Red Lands had been causing trouble for her sister, she didn’t mean that Red Knight or those Red Lands. Malory liked the imagery of the Red Knight so much he used it for two different characters in the same story. It’s a different Red Knight in different Red Lands.