Trigger warning: mention of rape
Double-length chapter today! Actually the chapter is the usual length but I’m unpacking it more than usual.
So all of Camelot/London is one big festival, what with Arthur getting married, and in wanders these two guys, a father and son. Father is your typical oppressed yeoman, has spent most of his life laboring and watching friends die, and looks sixty even though he’s forty. The son, though, is remarkably good-looking, dreamy-eyed, eighteen and actually looks it. Most peasants look eighteen for a brief window in their early teens, and then skip to middle age, but this guy has dodged that somehow. Son is on a horse the father is leading, and they’re going around Camelot/London, asking passersby directions to King Arthur.
“Why do you ask?” say the passersby. “Are you looking for him?”
“Yeah,” says the father. “That’s exactly right.”
“Thought so,” say the passersby, and directs them to Arthur’s hangout. Way to add a touch of verisimilitude to your story, Malory.
So the twosome head on into Arthur’s court, and Arthur’s lounging around drinking, and sees them.
“Ho, sire,” says the aged peasant, saluting. “Great King Arthur, beloved lord, worshipful sire, I come to beg your indulgence.”
“Hmm?” says Arthur. “Have we met?”
“Nay, sire,” says the peasant. “But I have heard that for the sake of your nuptials, you’re granting requests made of you. People ask you for things, and you give them the things, assuming the request isn’t unreasonable. You were shouting this very late the night before last?”
“That sounds like me,” admits Arthur. “I’ve been partying pretty heartily the last couple of days, but even so I’m liable to stick a rider like ‘assuming it’s not unreasonable’ on my drunken boasts. Anyway, I’m not saying I remember saying that, but if that’s what people are claiming, I’ll go along with it. As king, I try to live up to people’s expectations.”
This right here is why I like Arthur, all things considered. He’s not really an unreasonable dude, at heart. He’s in a weird situation, but he’s making the best of it. At least he hasn’t raped anyone.
(Malory, please let me get through this whole book without Arthur raping someone. I’m even willing to overlook the crazy child-killing end of Book I and pretend it didn’t happen because it makes so little sense on every level. Just no rape. Please.)
Anyway, back to the story. “Thank you sire,” says the peasant humbly. “I’ve come to ask you to make my son here a knight.”
Arthur purses his lips and sucks in his breath. “Hmm,” he says. “Hmm.”
“I’m trying to decide if that counts as reasonable,” Arthur says. “I think you could make a strong case either way. Okay, some questions. First, what’s your name, so that our narrator doesn’t have to keep calling you ‘the peasant?’”
“I am Aries Cow-Keeper,” says Aries Cow-Keeper.
“Second, is this your son’s idea or is it something you’re putting him up to?”
“Oh, it was his idea entirely,” says Aries. “Listen, I have thirteen surviving children, all boys, I work fourteen hours a day seven days a week, and I expect all my children to do the same. All my other kids — Bor, Dor, For, Gor, Jor, Kor, Lor, Mor, Nor, Por, Ror, and Sor — all do as they’re told, but Tor here, he’s the eldest and ought to set and example but he hasn’t worked a day in his life. Look at him! He’s the laziest peasant in the village, throwing darts and singing songs and watching jousts, and complaining that he wants to be a knight.”
“Mmm-hmm,” says Arthur. “So your name is Tor?” he asks, addressing the son.
“Yes sire,” says Tor. “Dad has it about right.”
“I see, I see,” says Arthur. He looks Tor up and down. “Well, you’re strikingly good-looking, and you appear to be in pretty good shape.”
“I practice jousting with sticks, for exercise,” says Tor.
“Okay. Before I announce my decision,” says Arthur. “I need you to fetch Bor through Sor, I want to eyeball them.”
So Aries fetches his twelve other sons, and lines them up, and even though Tor is the eldest several of his brothers look withered and aged compared to him, which is a mark of being a hard-working peasant, and they take after Aries in other ways too. Really, Tor sticks out like a sore thumb.
“Am I the only one who’s noticed this?” asks Arthur. “No? Okay. I’ve made my decision: I’ll knight you. Sword!”
Someone hands Arthur a sword, which he draws.
“Kneel down, Tor, and make a formal request,” says Arthur.
Tor kneels down and says “sire I heartily beseech thee —“
“Good enough,” says Arthur, cutting him off. He taps Tor on the back of the neck with the sword. “I dub you Sir Tor, knight! Play your cards right and you might get promoted to Knight of the Round Table! We have either two or twenty-two or a hundred and twenty-two empty spots, so I need to be stingy about handing out commendations or maybe I need to send a bunch out to promote guys up, I don’t even know. Anyway. Welcome to the team!”
Everyone applauds and Arthur turns to Merlin. “So Merlin, you’re all the time spouting dire prophecy, how about you tell us how Tor here will work out? Will he end up murdering his brother’s wife, or dying trying to prevent me from killing you, or some crazy random nonsense like that?”
“Okay, sorry, I shouldn’t tease the wizard.”
“He will be a fine knight,” says Merlin. “Just like his father before him.”
“Huh?” says Aries.
“Called it!” says Arthur.
Merlin just looks at him.
“I mean, ‘what by Jesu do you mean, Merlin? Gadzooks!’” says Arthur.
“Better,” says Merlin. He sighs. “Aries Cow-Keeper is not Sir Tor’s father any more than you’re Sir Ector’s son.”
“You know, he did raise me,” says Arthur.
“I don’t buy it,” says Aries. “I’m married to his mother!”
“Who’s the father?” asks Arthur.
“King Pellinore!” cries Merlin.
“Do I get any lines, ever?” asks Guenever. Not this chapter, Guenever!