Launcelot’s adventures continued; you aren’t getting off that easily. He crossed the wilderland for another indeterminate period, hours or days or months. One evening he found himself at a nice walled manor house out in the middle of nowhere. The house’s sole resident, a pleasant matronly lady, offered Launcelot full hospitality, which Launcelot accepted: food, drink, bed. Launcelot only wanted his bed for sleeping, and what with one thing and another instead of sleeping in the manor house, he ended up in the gatehouse over the big gates of the wall around the estate.
This may seem implausible, even nonsensical, but it’s necessary for the next plot point in Malory’s story. Late that night, Launcelot was awoken by the noise of someone banging on the gates. He looked out a window and saw that three knights were beating up a fourth knight, as the fourth knight tried desperately to get into the estate.
“Whoa,” Launcelot said to himself. “I don’t know anything about these people or why they’re fighting, but if I don’t jump in, I’m tacitly taking the side of the three guys who are liable to win if I don’t interfere. In which case, hey, that’s four knights to one knight, which is a terribly lopsided and unfair contest! I can’t be a party to that!” So Launcelot tied his bedsheets together and made a rope and climbed down to the knights, as if he were escaping from an orphanage or something. How old is that hoary image? At least five hundred years, is how old.
Launcelot jumped down and demanded that the three knights stop laying into that guy and start laying into him instead! Since he was just wearing his pajamas the other knights figured this was a good deal. Did Malory mention that the knight they were beating on was Sir Kay?
No? Well, it was. Sir Kay appreciated for the help, of course. “Ah!” he gasped. “Assistance! Now we can fight them together!” He danced around behind Launcelot. “Just give me a second to catch my breath! Outnumbered three to one, you know!”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Launcelot as he effortlessly dispatched all three of the knights.
They’re not dead, just thoroughly demoralized, and they offered to surrender.
“Don’t surrender to me!” Launcelot told them. “It’s Sir Kay, Arthur’s Chief Caterer, that you’ve been fighting. Surrender to him and I’ll let you all live!”
The three knights scowled. “Aw, do we have to?” asked one.
“But you don’t understand why we were running him down like a dog –“
“I don’t care!”
“He entirely deserved it, because –“
“I said I don’t care!”
“Fine, fine.” The three knights surrendered, and Launcelot told them to go to Camelot and present themselves to Arthur.
“And to Guenever, especially to Guenever, and tell them that Sir Kay sent you. Sir Kay, you got that?”
They got it! So the three knights left, tails between their legs. Sir Launcelot pounded on the gate of the estate until the nice lady answered it. There’s a hilarious exchange about how she had thought Launcelot was already in bed, and he explained that he had been in bed but then ceased to be. All this confused her. It’s like there’s a hanging open parentheses: she let Launcelot in, but didn’t let him out. And yet he wanted to be let in again? But eventually they got inside.
Kay didn’t realize that it was Launcelot who saved him, until they were indoors and there was light. He got down on his knees and thanked Launcelot for the favor.
“Think nothing of it,” said Launcelot, clearly uncomfortable. The little old lady cooked up some late-night stew for Kay, and then Launcelot and Kay went to bed together, in a knightly sort of way.
The next morning Launcelot decided to have a little fun at Kay’s expense. He rose early while Kay was still asleep and dressed himself in Kay’s armor, Kay’s shield, Kay’s sword. He thanked the hostess for her hospitality, then departed on Kay’s horse.
“Ho ho ho,” thought Launcelot to himself. “Kay will have no choice but to wear my armor and gear and head back to Camelot, that’ll be a laugh when they think it’s me there but it’s really Kay! Also, if I happen to see those three knights from last night, they’ll think I’m Kay, which will likewise be good for a laugh, especially if they try to pick a fight.”
Sure enough, eventually Kay woke up, and donned Launcelot’s armor and gear with a laugh. He thanked his host, and returned to Camelot. There all kind of wacky larfs ensued due to Launcelot’s hijinks.
If you and two friends were trying to kill Sir Kay, why would you be doing it? Do you think you could talk Launcelot into taking your side?