Which is how we transition out of the Story of Morgan le Fay, and into the fourth and final story of Book IV, the Story of Uwaine’s Travels Away From Camelot, which goes in a different direction than you probably expected.
First of all, it’s actually mostly about Sir Gawaine. That night at dinner Gawaine heard about Uwaine’s banishment, and of course he immediately started to fret that if Arthur was going to start exiling his nephews, Gawaine was naturally next. In Gawaine’s mind this was a fait accompli. It was going to happen. He was the bad knight, the one who had been promoted to the Round Table only because he was Arthur’s nephew, the one who’d gotten locked up back in Book III, the one who Kay had made fun of earlier in Book IV. He was going to be exiled.
“You can’t exile me! I quit!” he shouted, interrupting the soup course.
“Come again?” asked Arthur, but Gawaine had already fled the dinner table.
Sir Gawaine figured his best bet was to hook up with his cousin Uwaine; the two of them could ride off together and have a strange adventure or two. He didn’t actually ask Uwaine about this, instead simply falling into step behind Uwaine as he left. Perhaps surprisingly, the court in general was sad to see Gawaine go. Or at least, they were sad to see the pair of them go. Maybe it was just Uwaine everyone was unhappy about. Gaheris, Gawaine’s brother, at least, was definitely unhappy about the Gawaine self-exile thing.
Together, Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine rode out from Camelot in search of strange adventures. They visited some monks, they saw a forest, typical stuff. Then, hey, a thing happened! Twelve maidens, hanging out in a garden party with two knights in full jousting gear! Hanging from a tree in the garden there was a big white shield! And all the ladies were throwing garbage at it, for some reason.
Gawaine and Uwaine took in this whole scene. Sir Uwaine cleared his throat. “Hey ladies, how’s it going? What’s up with this shield that you all clearly hate so much?”
The ladies stopped what they were doing and turned to examine the knights. They crowded around Gawaine and Uwaine, pressing in tight, and explained that there was this guy, Sir Marhaus who lived in the area. He used a white shield, and he was an ass. These maidens hated him. They hated him so much that they’d thrown a garden party specifically to mock him and his stupid white shield.
“Marhaus!” said Sir Uwaine. “I know Marhaus. I met him once. He’s an okay guy. Really good jouster. Brother-in-law of Anguish, the King of Ireland.” Which would have made him Sir Lanceor’s uncle, everybody, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
“He’s a good jouster? I’ve heard enough.” Sir Gawaine shook his head. “Ladies, ladies, ladies. Clearly you’re wrong. No one whom Uwaine remembers as being a good jouster could be on the wrong side of an issue. Especially if the other side is just a dozen women.”
At this point, I have to wonder whatever happened to Gawaine’s entourage of scolding ladies-in-waiting. Seems like one of them should have smacked him on the back of the head for that one.
“I mean, if he hung up a white shield like that, it must be a signal of his intent to joust,” Gawaine mused. “Yes, plainly you maidens are all terrible people for failing to give proper respect and deference to the white shield. The shield is better than you.”
Gawaine and Uwaine then didn’t want to have anything else to do with the ladies, and they sort of loitered around the edge of the garden party, waiting for Marhaus to show up. They figured hey, he was a good jouster.
And sure enough, before too long, Sir Marhaus did put in an appearance. Gawaine and Uwaine could tell it’s Marhaus, because the ladies went absolutely ape: they screamed and flailed around and then they ran and hid in their tower (did I mention they had a tower?). The two knights with them wasted no time charging Marhaus. It was less a joust than just some guys trying to kill one another. Sir Marhaus won easily. Which you probably saw coming, since he’d been named and Malory hadn’t bothered to name his opposition.
When Marhaus saw how the ladies had been throwing garbage at his white shield, he muttered something about how he’d gotten that shield from his childhood sweetheart, and swapped it out for the other white one that he’d been carrying around. He wiped his precious shield off, grumbling and scowling, and of course this was the point at which Gawaine and Uwaine decided to have a chat with him. I mean, he’d just killed two dudes and he was clearly grumpy. Best possible time to talk.
He glanced up as they approached. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“I’m Sir Gawaine and you may remember, this is Sir Uwaine.” Uwaine nodded, since they’d met before. “We’re knights from Camelot, out looking for a strange adventure.”
“That sounds to me like you want to joust!”
Gawaine did not want to joust. “No, actually –” But Marhaus had already ridden off.
“It’s cool,” said Uwaine. “I mean, yes, he could kill you effortlessly, Gawaine, but I’m pretty good at jousting. I’ll do it.”
TIME FOR A JOUSTING SEQUENCE! Now would be a good time to use the restroom, smoke a cigarette, as you like. I’m editing this down, I promise.
Sir Uwaine and Sir Marhaus jousted. Marhaus disabled Uwaine easily with a nonlethal attack, and when Gawaine tried to rescue his cousin, Marhaus pretty well humiliated him, effortlessly smashing up his spear and killing his horse. Sir Gawaine was thus forced to fight on foot with a sword, and when Marhaus came at him still mounted, of course Gawaine complained that was cheating.
“Heck, I’ll play it your way you little squirt,” said Marhaus with a laugh. He tied up his horse and made ready to fight on foot.
Then something peculiar happened! Gawaine stopped sucking! It was weird. They started their swordfight at about 11:45 in the morning, and as it got closer to noon, Gawaine’s strength and prowess were boosted! They maxed out at noon and started to recede afterwards, though, so it was a fairly sucky superpower. Gawaine’s super-strength would not come up again until, no lie, Book XXI.
Marhaus, meanwhile, was fresh as a daisy. They sword-fought for hours and hours, the way only fictional characters can, and by sunset Gawaine was pretty well exhausted and Marhaus was plainly just toying with him.
Malory’s phrasing here is pretty good. “Sir knight,” says Sir Marhaus… “Our quarrels are not great, and therefore it would be a pity to hurt you, for I feel you are increasingly feeble.”
“I was just going to say that to you!” cried Gawaine, an obvious lie.
So they kissed and made up. Uwaine recovered, and next thing you know, they were all hanging out back at Marhaus’s house.
“So those ladies seemed to really hate you, what’s up with that?”
“Bah, those ladies.” Marhaus sniffed. “Typical bunch of witches. They’re all the time seducing men, and stealing their power, and so on.”
Again, I wish Malory had been more consistent with Gawaine’s entourage of ladies-in-waiting, because I don’t think Guenever’s gals would have let that pass.
Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine stayed with Sir Marhaus for a week. The morning they headed out, Marhaus offered to join them in their travels. “I’ll come with you part of the way and we’ll go into the Forest of Arroy. Everybody has strange adventures in the Forest of Arroy! Can’t go a week without hitting a strange adventure smack in the face.”
Gawaine was down with that. “Cool, cool, we’re up for some strange adventures. Uwaine here has never been on one.”
So they rode into the forest, and boom before you know it, they were in a clearing with three women: a maiden, a matron, and a crone.
“Are you here for the strange adventure?” the women asked, in eerie unison.
“What’d I tell you?” said Sir Marhaus. “What’d I tell you?”
Quick description of the three women: the crone was about sixty, white hair, wore a tiara. The matron was about thirty, a blonde, with a little golden circlet. The maiden was in her middle teens, which is to say, underage in the modern world, but the Arthurian age of consent was much more lax, thanks for that Malory. She didn’t have a gold hat like the other two, hers was flowers.
“Here’s how it’s gonna go down,” said the matron. “Three of you, three of us. We break up into pairs and take you on three separate strange adventures that will take most of the rest of Book IV to describe, and then we meet back here in a year. Which of you travels with which of us, we’re leaving up to you.”
“Cool,” said Uwaine. “Dibs on the crone. She’s probably the smart one, that’s how it goes, right? I want the smart one, because I have very little actual life experience.”
“Hmm. I’ll take the matron, she looks game,” said Marhaus. “We might end up just going back to my place and shacking up for a year. No promises.”
“Sweet!” cried Gawaine. “I get the hot young teenager! She’s the youngest and therefore hottest and therefore best!”
“Yeah, good luck with that,” said Marhaus.
The damosels were fine with whatever; they didn’t care who went with who. Everybody kissed one another goodbye (NB Marhaus and Gawaine had at this point kissed twice, which is twice more than the number of specific references to Arthur and Guenever kissing), and they led the three knights in three different directions. Sir Uwaine west, Sir Marhaus south, and Sir Gawaine north.