Launcelot continued along, hitting up strange adventure after strange adventure, not all of which Malory bothers to cover. He was just having a good ol’ time, dressed up as Sir Kay and traveling incognito. Because no one knew that he was Sir Launcelot, people didn’t constantly bug him with questions about his relationship with Guenever. No queens tried to get him into bed. No random knights challenged him, thinking they might get lucky, defeat him, and jump to the top ranks of knighthood.
At some point after he took Kay’s armor, Launcelot approached three tents set up by the side of the road, with three shields hung up outside, and lances ready for jousting, and a total of nine squires and men-at-arms ready to assist knights with their jousting preparations and so on. Three knights — explicitly a different three than the three in the last chapter who had been trying to kill Sir Kay for no clear reason — stood around, waiting for a chance to joust passersby.
Did Launcelot stop and joust? He did not. He just kept on riding, didn’t even slow down.
“Well, hell,” said the first knight, Sir Gaunter. “Did you see that guy? He went right by without so much as a by-your-leave.”
“Did you see who it was?” asked the second knight, whose name was Sir Gilmere.
“I did!” said the third knight, Sir Raynold. “It was Sir Kay. I recognized the shield.”
“Kay? Kay?” Sir Gaunter would have liked to have words with Kay. “That lousy horse-riding, king-slaying, feast-catering son of a… He’s got some nerve, coming back here!”
At this point I really wish Malory would explain what exactly Sir Kay did that pissed off so many knights. But it’s a mystery for the ages!
“I will ride after him and assay him for all his pride,” announced Gaunter. He chased Launcelot and shouted “Abide, thou proud knight Sir Kay, for thou shall not pass quit!”
Launcelot didn’t say anything, he just sighed and shook his head and lowered his spear and jousted Gaunter. He jousted Gaunter so hard Gaunter was thrown from the saddle, and landed insensible on the ground.
“Gadzooks!” said Gilmere. “Did you see that? Did you see that? I don’t think that’s Sir Kay.”
“You know, you’re right. Sir Kay isn’t that tall,” said Raynold. “You know what this means? Some guy murdered Kay and took his stuff!”
“Gadzooks again!” cried Gilmere. “Lord knows I’m not one of Kay’s biggest fans, but he didn’t deserve that! Regardless, we’d better ride in and rescue Gaunter, because this strange knight, he’s clearly outside our usual weight class. But the three of us ought to be able to take him on, even if it is Sir Launcelot, or Sir Tristram, or Sir Pellas the Good. I mean, he’s probably not one of the three most badass knights in the country, right? Right?”
“Yeah, let’s go,” said Raynold. He and Gilmere approached Launcelot. Ironically, Launcelot actually just wanted to leave; the only reason he hadn’t already ridden off was that he felt obliged to make sure that Sir Gaunter wasn’t going to die.
Gilmere charged Sir Launcelot, and of course he went down in a single combat round, leaving just Raynold.
Raynold decided it was time to try diplomacy. “So hello there, stranger,” he said. “I see you’ve probably slain my pals Gaunter and Gilmere, which means I have to try to kill you to avenge them, and if it was up to me, I’d be like, hey, dude, no quarrel, no harm no foul, but knightly duty demands I attack, and, basically I’m asking you to go easy on me.”
Launcelot sighed, again, and shook his head, again, but said nothing. He let Raynold charge him and mounted a full defense; Raynold just battered uselessly against Launcelot’s shield. This went on for a few minutes, long enough for Gaunter and Gilmere — whom Launcelot had merely knocked down and concussed — to get up and shake out the cobwebs and confer.
“Our man Raynold is getting humiliated,” said Gaunter.
“We’ve got to help him!” agreed Gilmere.
They charged in! Launcelot saw them coming, and responded with his multiple foe subduing whirling attack, which resulted in all three of the knights, Gaunter, Gilmere, and Raynold, on the ground in front of him.
“Avast, villain!” cried Raynold, and staggered to his feet…
“Enough!” Launcelot shouted. “I mean, come on, fun is fun, but you guys are going to get hurt if we keep doing this! Sir Raynold, I know you at least; you’ve spent time at Camelot. I was there when our good King Arthur knighted you. I don’t want to see you throwing your life away.”
“Big words! Big, generous, and really confusing words, coming from the knight who slew Sir Kay and stole his stuff! That’s right! We know you’re not really Sir Kay!” responded Raynold.
“Just surrender already!”
“I said surrender!”
The three knights reconsidered. They’d been dehorsed and knocked down at least twice each; they were all bruised and sweaty. Launcelot just stood there, not even out of breath. “Okay, fine. Fine.”
“Great. Now, here’s what you do, you three. Go to Camelot, and present yourselves to Queen Guenever. Say that Sir Kay sent you.”
“But you’re not Sir Kay.”
“Doesn’t matter. She’ll know what it means.”
“Well, okay. You’re the boss.”
And Launcelot rode off. Then this same sequence of events happened again! Seriously. Book VI, Chapter 13 of Le Morte D’Arthur is basically the same story as Chapter 12, but with Sir Gawaine, Sir Uwaine, Sir Ector the Lesser, and a knight we’ve never seen before, Sir Sagramour the Lusty, in place of Sir Gaunter, Sir Gilmere, and Sir Raynold.
Launcelot, disguised as Kay, approached a watering hole in the middle of the woods, and these four Knights of the Round Table happened to be there. Sagramour saw Launcelot, assumed he was Sir Kay, and decided this was a great time to settle some dispute he had with Sir Kay.
Everyone was mad at Kay all the time, is the lesson here. Which seems unfair. I mean, yes, he is kind of a dick to Sir Gareth in Book VII and again to Sir Breunor at the start of Book IX, but otherwise he’s a pretty level-headed knight. He does a great job humiliating King Mark in Book IX, he’s right there with the sausages earlier in this book… Kay gets a bum rap, that’s what I’m saying.
“Now by my faith I will prove Sir Kay’s might,” Sagramour said, prove in this case meaning test rather than confirm. But of course Launcelot smacked him with a spear and knocked him down.
“Get! Go on, get!” Launcelot told him.
Sagramour crawled back to Gawaine and the others. “I don’t think that’s Sir Kay,” he said.
“What gave it away?” asked Gawaine with a laugh. “The fact that he’s a foot taller than Kay, or the fact that he’s riding exactly like Sir Launcelot, or the part where Kay showed up at Camelot in Launcelot’s gear and we all had a good laugh, or the way he dehorsed you with a single expert blow?”
“Some combination of those things,” said Sagramour.
“I haven’t been paying attention,” announced Sir Ector. “You were saying something about that guy being Kay? I bet I can take him.”
Before Gawaine could stop him, Ector rode up on Launcelot, and boom, same result.
“Zounds!” cried Sir Uwaine. “This villain has defeated my comrades Ector and Sagramour both! I must needs contend with him methinks no doubt, gadzooks and alors.”
The predictable result resulted.
“Now see I well, said Sir Gawaine, “I must encounter with that knight. This will only take a second, because I realize he’s going to kick my ass and make it look easy.”
Gawaine charged Launcelot, and Launcelot saw that it’s him, and decided to have a little fun at Gawaine’s expense. Result: not only was Gawaine’s spear shattered and Gawaine dehorsed, but Gawaine’s horse did a flip, Launcelot hit it so hard.
Now that Launcelot had defeated all of them, the four Knights of the Round Table reconvened.
“Who the heck is that guy? Is he the devil? I think he’s the devil!” said Sagramour.
“Remember how I said it was Launcelot? Why does nobody ever listen to me? I’m going to say that again. It’s definitely Launcelot,” said Gawaine. “Launcelot!”
“Should we say something?” asked Uwaine.
“Nah, let him go,” said Gawaine. “I mean, if he wanted to talk to us, he’d have come over here already. Apparently he’s on some kind of strange adventure wanderjahr. I’m sure eventually he’ll get bored and come home to Camelot. We’ll all have a good laugh about it then.”
So the four knights waved at Launcelot, from a respectful distance, and mounted up and departed.