Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book I Chapters XXIII and XXIV
The mystery knight feels a little bad about beating on Sir Griflet, who might grow up to be a great knight eventually, so he gets down off his horse and helps Griflet up, and Griflet’s bleeding pretty badly but the knight loads him up on his horse, and sends him back to Arthur’s court.
In Arthur’s court everyone is worried that he won’t make it, but then he makes it! End of story. No moral.
Just after this event, there’s a bizarre little sequence. Tax collectors show up: twelve elderly men from Rome, asking for Arthur’s taxes for Caesar. And by “asking” I mean “demanding, with an undertone of threatening.”
“Well,” Arthur says, “you guys are messengers, and I don’t believe in killing the messenger, so I’m not going to hurt you, I’m just going to say that my answer is a categorical get bent to all Roman Emperors. All taxes paid by me shall be paid using the medium of sword-blows, and you guys picked a real bad time, because I’m upset about this whole Griflet thing anyways.”
The tax collectors storm off, warning that this isn’t the end of it, and Arthur stews and sulks. He tells one of his men to get all his best combat gear together, and a horse, and the next morning he straps on his armor and takes his spear and goes riding around looking for trouble.
Trouble is not long in the coming, for before Arthur’s wandered too far he comes across Merlin, being chased by three churls.
“Churls! Scat!” shouts Arthur, and rides into them waving his spear around. The churls scatter, and Arthur feels much better.
“Ha, Merlin,” says Arthur. “You’re all Captain Magic and Weird Trickery Man, and here you would have been murdered by churls if I hadn’t happened along.”
“Yeah, that wouldn’t have happened,” says Merlin. “You’re going to die before I am, also God hates you.”
“Stop talking!” says Arthur. “You are the worst buzzkill ever Merlin.”
Merlin and Arthur walk along like this for a while, with Merlin making dire predictions and Arthur trying to laugh it off, and then they come to the fountain.
“Crap,” says Arthur. “This fountain.” He shakes his head.
At the fountain that mystery knight that busted up Griflet is still there, as is all his stuff.
“Yo,” says the knight that busted up Griflet.
“Yo yourself,” says Arthur. “Are you the dick that’s been jousting and killing people?”
“Maybe,” says the knight. “A lot of people were jousting.”
“I’m going to hit you until you promise to stop,” says Arthur.
Arthur pulls out his sword.
“Hey, swords are fine and all,” says the knight. “But I’m actually way better with spears. Sometimes I tell people I’m not just to mess with them, but seeing as how you’re king and all, could we do it with spears?”
“Sure,” says Arthur. “Except I have zero spears.”
“Borrow one of mine,” says the knight. “I have like a million extra.”
So Arthur grabs a spear, and they joust, and the knight slams Arthur pretty well and Arthur the knight likewise, and both spears shatter under the force of it.
“Okay, now with swords,” says Arthur.
“I have more spears,” says the knight. “C’mon, be a sport.”
“Okay, fine,” says Arthur, testily. They take new spears and ride at one another again, and this time the knight hammers Arthur quite well and knocks him off his horse.
“I’m okay! I’m okay,” says Arthur. “Just got the wind knocked out of me. Now I’m dehorsed, so that’s a point for you and now we fight on foot with swords. That’s how it goes.”
“Yeah, no,” says the mystery knight. “I’m going to stay up here.”
“You’re cheating!” cries Arthur, and lays into him with his sword. Arthur doesn’t kill the knight’s horse because that would be cheating and make Arthur just as bad as this knight, but he does get the knight unhorsed pretty quick.
“Yeah, well, I let you,” says the mystery knight. “Can’t really get a guy on foot with a spear from horseback, anyway.”
Then Arthur and the mystery knight fight fight fight with swords, it’s awesome, right up until the knight’s sword chops Arthur’s sword in half.
“Darn it,” says Arthur. “I should have brought my magic one.”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t,” says the other knight. “Now do you surrender or do I kill you?”
Merlin, who’s been watching this whole battle from the sidelines, calls out to Arthur. “Don’t choose death! God hates you so when you die you’ll go to hell! It’ll be terrible! If you surrender you will lose all self-respect! I’m an old wizard and yet I’ll outlive you! You slept with your sister!” and many other cheers meant to lift Arthur’s spirits.
“I choose neither!” cries Arthur. And he jumps onto the mystery knight, knocks him down, and rips his helmet off, and it’s Pellinore that jackass who stole Arthur’s horse. Shocking twist!
Then Arthur and Pellinore are rolling around fighting in the dirt, and Pellinore is definitely getting the upper hand, and things aren’t looking good for our hero.
So Arthur’s lying there, senseless, and he’s about to get his skull caved in by Pellinore and Pellinore’s enormous heavy sword. Finally Merlin decides to get up and do something useful for once (okay, that is maybe unfair to Merlin. Merlin did some useful stuff earlier on. Lately however he has just been sitting around spouting spoilers). “Hey, you,” he says to Pellinore. “Yeah, you! Quit murdering that guy! He’s better than you!”
“Better than me? Who is this guy, anyway?” asks Pellinore.
“It’s King Arthur, you idiot!”
“Arthur!” Pellinore is impressed. “Then I’d better double-kill him!” And Pellinore hefts his sword and is about to decapitate Arthur, but then Merlin casts sleep and instead Pellinore lies down for a while.
Sleep? I’d have figured that Pellinore had more hit dice than that.
Arthur is early in his career yet though.