In which Sir Kay humiliates King Mark
Speak we of other knights that sought after Sir Tristram many divers parts of this land, Malory announces. Now begins the Tale of King Mark and Sir Kay. Naturally we cut to Sir Gawaine’s brother Sir Gaheris.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to go back and check, I’ll confirm it for you: Sir Gaheris was not a member of the Tristram Rescue Squad. Whatever, Malory! Maybe you shouldn’t have come up with a Tristram Rescue Squad Roll Call Sound Off Now, if you can’t stick to it.
Gaheris figured to catch a Tristram, you had to think like a Tristram. His plan: Cornwall, and Mark’s court in Tintagil. Mark put him up, of course, since he was a Knight of the Round Table, not to mention King Arthur’s nephew. Mark’s seneschal Sir Dinas threw a banquet together, wherein Gaheris sat at Mark’s own table and ate off Mark’s own plate, as was the style of the time.
“So Gaheris, how’re tricks?” asked Mark.
“Oh, hey, here’s a piece of news,” said Gaheris. “Just recently we had a big three-day tournament in the Castle of Maidens, up in the North of Logris-England-Britain.”
“And the best knight was this one guy with a black shield…”
“Ah, Launcelot, of course. Ol’ Sir Black-Shield, that’s what they call him,” said Mark, who likes to sound smart.
“I don’t think so, no. This wasn’t Launcelot, it was…”
“Sir Palomides! I should have guessed. He’s been an honored guest here many times, even though he isn’t Christian! Ran off with my wife once, you know. Heh, crazy times. That Palomides, such a nutbar.”
“Not so, for both Sir Launcelot and Sir Palomides were on the contrary party against the Knight of the Black Shield,” said Gaheris.
Mark threw his head down on the table, where it hit with a smacking sound. “Then it was Sir Tristram.” Mark tried not to think about Tristram.
“Yeah, that’s right, he’s your nephew, isn’t he?” Gaheris asked. He was about to question whether Mark had seen Tristram lately, when the lovely Isoud spoke up.
“I know it’s been ever so long since I did anything or had any lines (which still puts me well up above Guenever), but excuse me. Did you mention my beloved Tristram? Tristram was there? Did he win? Oh, what I am saying, listen to me, of course he won. He wins everything, he’s such an absolute dream! O how I miss him!”
At this point Sir Gaheris started drinking heavily, which was entirely typical for people who had dinner with Mark and the lovely Isoud.
Shortly afterwards, in an attempt to keep Sir Gaheris entertained, Mark decided to throw a big party. As a king this was his most important duty. Sir Uwaine showed up for the party, along with everybody important in Cornwall! Unlike Gaheris Sir Uwaine actually was a member of the Tristram Rescue Squad. At the party Uwaine failed to simper when Mark expected him to, rendering him eternally an enemy in Mark’s eyes.
“That stuck-up prideful jerk Sir Uwaine, always running around like blood doesn’t stick to his hands,” grumbled Mark. “I wish I had a decent knight in my court, to send to joust him. That’d take him down a peg, oh yes.”
Tristram’s cousin, Sir Andred, piped up. He’s Mark’s other nephew, not a very good knight, but very jealous of Tristram. “I’ll do it!”
This went as well for Andred as you would expect, given that I just characterized him as “not a very good knight.” He would be okay in just a few paragraphs, folks, but in the moment he was taken from the field in a stretcher.
“That stuck-up prideful jerk Sir Uwaine, always smiting my poor nephews,” grumbled Mark. “If only I had a decent knight in my court, someone could avenge poor Sir Andred… wait! I do! Sir Dinas!”
Mark’s seneschal, the Kay to Mark’s Arthur, Sir Dinas was an okay knight. Still not great, but definitely okay. A credible challenge for one of the lesser Knights of the Round Table. Dinas didn’t have a lot of respect for Mark; he admired Tristram. Mark kept him around anyway because he was good at jousting.
Of course Dinas didn’t want to do it. “I’m too old for this shit,” said Dinas. “Uwaine’s of the Round Table. He’s young, knightly… full knightly, even.”
“As your king I beg you! For my love take upon thee to joust,” pleaded Mark.
Dinas sighed. “Well, that assumes I care about your love.” Eventually he acquiesced and went to joust Uwaine. Dinas got himself as badly beaten as Andred. Again, he would be fine in a bit, but in the moment he was out.
Who was wroth but King Mark! asks Malory, but it’s a rhetorical question. King Mark was wroth, I tell you what. “I can’t believe this! I just don’t have any suitable knights! My court sucks!”
Sir Gaheris was pretty drunk, but he’d followed the conversation to this point, more or less. “All right, all right, all right. I’ll do it. I always end up doing it anyway. I’ll joust your guy, where is he?”
So Gaheris headed out to joust Uwaine. Uwaine recognized him, though. “Sir, you do not your part. For, sir, the first time ye were made Knight of the Round Table ye sware that ye should not have ado with your fellowship wittingly.”
“What’s that in English?” asked Gaheris.
“Sir Gaheris!” Uwaine snapped his fingers. “It’s me, your cousin Sir Uwaine! We’re both Knights of the Round Table. We swore Guenever’s oath, back in Book III, that no Knight of the Round Table shall ever joust another Knight of the Round Table or do battle with one another. Now, you’re pretty drunk and maybe you don’t recognize me, but I recognize you and I’d know your shield and heraldry even if I didn’t know you. Maybe you’re willing to break Guenever’s oath, but I’m not.”
“Feh,” said Gaheris. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“No way! Besides, we’re cousins!”
Then was Sir Gaheris ashamed, says Malory. He returned to Mark, while Uwaine shook his head in disappointment that Cornwall was not a more civilized land, and departed.
King Mark just couldn’t let the matter drop, though. He mounted up on his horse, with his armor and weapons (which are in extremely good shape because he’d never used them), and chased after Uwaine. When he caught up, he didn’t challenge Uwaine to a joust, as would have been appropriate. No, he just flat-out stabbed Uwaine in the back with his lance!
“That’s what you get for making me feel small in my own country!” cried Mark, and rode off, abandoning Uwaine to die.
Needless to say, Sir Uwaine didn’t die. Instead Sir Kay encountered him by random contrivance, and saved the day. Kay saw a mess and he sighed, because he always had to be the one to pick up after everybody. Feasts, parties, and now guys bleeding by the side of the road. Sir Kay carried Uwaine to the nearest priory, the Abbey of the Black Cross, for medical treatment.
“It was weird, Kay,” Uwaine said later, after he regained consciousness. “I wot not why nor wherefore, but by treason I am sure I gat this hurt. I was just riding along, minding my own business, and then wham! Lance in my back!”
Sir Andred showed up at the Abbey, to see what was up, and Kay immediately accused him of back-stabbing poor Uwaine.
“I didn’t!” Andred protested. “Knight’s honor! Cross my heart, hope to die!”
“The honor of a Cornish knight is plainly worth zilch,” said Kay. “You and everyone else in Mark’s court… you’re all a bunch of honorless losers. The only decent Cornish knight was Tristram, and you kicked him out. Bear in mind it’s established I’m a guy who hates Tristram, when I say this.”
Somehow Gaheris became apprised of the full details of the situation. Perhaps he had psychic powers that rarely became narratively relevant. Regardless, he turned to Mark. “Sir king, ye did a foul shame unto you and your court.“
“Wait wait wait,” said Mark. “I’m confused. Where are we? Are we at the Abbey? Why are Gaheris and I there? How did that happen?”
“Continuity errors won’t save you now, you no-honor pig,” snapped Gaheris.
“Who’s calling who a pig?” called out Sir Kay, as he strode boldly into Tintagil. We’re going to go ahead and say we’re in Tintagil. Kay smiled broadly and without any friendliness.
“Never mind that now,” said Mark, thinking quickly. “Who’s up for a strange adventure?”
“Sure, I’ll bite,” said Kay, baring his teeth.
“This strange adventure to which I refer requires you to go out into the Morris woods near here. You need to wear a blindfold and also take your armor’s backplate off, otherwise the strange adventure won’t go off properly…” Mark was straight up blue-skying it.
“Oh, I’ll take your strange adventure, Mark. I’ll take it and I’ll advent it right proper,” sneered Kay. He headed out immediately. No time like the present!
Gaheris intercepted Kay on the road to the forest. “Kay, Kay, don’t be a hero! Mark is not to be trusted! He’s been humiliated by us Camelot knights, and he’s up to no good I’m sure. This is an ambush situation, Kay.”
“Well duh,” retorted Kay. “This isn’t my first jousting tournament, Gaheris. I’m King Arthur’s big brother, I know a trap when I stride boldly into it. But come with me if you’re worried for my safety. It’ll be a hoot.” Sir Kay was kind of awesome.
King Mark sneaked out of his own castle like a criminal, because he didn’t want anybody to see him ride off into the woods to ambush and murder Kay. He brought along only his most trusted men, including Sir Andred (see, I told you he would be okay) and definitely not including Sir Dinas. They dressed up all in black, and entered the woods by the back way.
Mark’s plan, as Gaheris had predicted and Kay foresaw, was to just ambush Kay and murder him before he knew what happened. However this plan was foiled inasmuch as Kay was way better at spotting ambushes than Mark was at setting them.
“Ho, strange knights all in black whom I certainly don’t recognize as a certain asshole king and his asshole nephew,” called Kay. “I see you there, in the bushes! Come on out and let’s have a nice friendly eyes-open joust, what do you say?”
Mark reluctantly emerged from the bushes to joust Kay. Even so, he cheated! He rammed Kay’s horse with his own, much larger horse. Kay’s horse fell down, with Kay underneath it. Kay was bruised full sore and lay there, trapped under his horse.
“Knight, sit thou fast in the saddle, for I will revenge my fellow!” shouted Gaheris, and charged Mark for another joust.
Gaheris terrified Mark, Malory tells us, but Mark jousted him nevertheless. Mark had no other options, really. Of course Gaheris effortlessly dehorsed him, and then Sir Andred too for good measure. Then, while they lay there reeling, Gaheris climbed down from his horse and helped Kay get out from under his.
The two Camelot knights approached the two Cornish knights. “Don’t kill us!” wailed Sir Andred, crying like a little baby. “It’s King Mark and only Sir Andred! He’s a king! I’m just a knight! I was just following orders! Please don’t kill me!”
“You would-be ambushing dicks,” said Gaheris. “Why shouldn’t we kill you?”
“I’m a king! I’m a king!” cried Mark. “Anointed with oil, Biblical tradition, divine right to rule, legit king, over here. Also I can pay you! I have a king’s ransom at my disposal!”
“Feh,” said Gaheris to Mark. “I wasn’t even talking to you. I was asking why we should spare Andred. You, we’re definitely going to kill. Sparing you was never on the table. Thou art a king anointed with cream, and therefore thou shouldst hold with all men of worship, and therefore thou art worthy to die.”
“Ooh, nice burn,” said Kay.
“I know, right? I’ve been saving that one,” replied Gaheris.
Gaheris raised up his sword to slice Mark’s head off, and Mark dropped to his knees and sobbed and begged and cringed and promised that never while he lived would he be against errant-knights. And also he sware to be good friend unto Sir Tristram if ever he came to Cornwall.
“Fine, you big baby,” said Gaheris. “You know you really take all the fun out of it.”
Meanwhile Kay loomed over Andred, but Gaheris stopped him. “Wherefore the stopping of me?” Kay asked. “It were pity that he should live any longer, for this is nigh cousin unto Sir Tristram, and ever he hath been a traitor unto him, and by him he was exiled out of Cornwall, and therefore I will slay him. This is Andred. He’s awful. He’s like Tristram without the charm or the jousting prowess.”
“Dude, I dunno, I just spared King Mark. It seems petty to kill Andred if we’re letting Mark live.”
“Enh, all right.” And so Kay and Gaheris executed zero villains; instead they frog-marched Mark and Andred back to Tintagil and turned them over to the custody of Sir Dinas.
Afterwards Kay and Gaheris rode the hell out of Cornwall. Just outside they bumped into Launcelot, last seen chasing Pitiless Bruce with Dame Bragwaine. Kay filled Launcelot in on their whole strange adventure, clarifying that Tristram hadn’t been seen in Cornwall since Mark exiled him. Launcelot smiled when he heard about what a dick King Mark was, and says hard it is to take out of the flesh that is bred in the bone, which I think translates from 1460-talk to present-talk as a familiar expression about leopards and spots.
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