A couple of days later, Launcelot grumpily rides along, and he comes to a long bridge over a gully, and just on the other side there’s some jackass with an ironshod club.
“Where’s your toll money?” demands the churl, and bonks Launcelot’s horse on the nose with his club.
“I don’t have toll money and if I didn’t I wouldn’t give you any,” says Launcelot. “It’s a bridge! What, am I supposed to ride alongside it?”
The toll-keeper doesn’t find this a very compelling argument, but he makes a mistake of his own: he tries to get into a fight with Launcelot.
Afterwards, as Launcelot is cleaning the blood off of his sword, he notices there’s a whole village full of peasants over here on the far side of the bridge. They’re just staring at him. Some of them hide behind others, and mothers protect their children.
“Murderer!” cries one. Most of the rest just shush him.
“What?” Launcelot asks. “Who was this guy? Not a mugger? Is that the consensus, that I didn’t just dispatch a mugger?”
“He was a toll-taker for the bridge!”
“No, no, listen. Listen. This bridge? It’s King Arthur’s bridge, because we’re in England and this is King Arthur’s road, not a private way. The king hasn’t authorized anyone to collect tolls I am one hundred percent sure.”
“The masters of the castle aren’t going to like this. He was their chief porter,” mutters one of the villagers.
“Oh, so now there’s a castle involved? Great. Fine. I’ll just deal with them, all right? Point me in the right direction.”
So Launcelot heads up to the castle, and notices that it’s a very nice castle, old and well-built, with a bunch of good doorways and so on. Good place to repel a siege. He ties his horse up outside and sees a bunch of folks peering down from the windows and the walls of the castle, murmuring concerned murmurs about how the masters wouldn’t like this.
Masters show up! The masters turn out to be a giant and another giant. Two giants. These aren’t civilized knightly giants like Turquine, they’re the Skyrim caveman-looking giants with the clubs and the loincloths, and Launcelot kills them both. One tries to run when Launcelot kills the other, but Launcelot runs him down on his horse.
Launcelot heads into the castle, where five dozen women kneel before him. Apparently the giants kept quite a harem. Anyway, Launcelot isn’t interested in taking advantage of them (c.f. his monologue last chapter) and tells them they’re free to go, and they’re like, well, that’s nice too. Mainly the women are just happy not to be stuck embroidering silk for their supper. They ask for Launcelot’s name, so they can tell all their friends about the nice young knight who rescued them when they were imprisoned for seven years by giants.
“Ah, sir!” they say when Launcelot reveals he’s Sir Launcelot du Lake, the Man from Benwick. “That makes sense. We’ve heard of you. Word gets around, even when you’re pinned up in a castle as part of some giants’ harem of silk-workers. It only stands to reason that the knight who finally defeated our captors would be you. Many, many lesser knights have tried and died. I was just telling Alma, the other day, Alma, I said, Alma, you know who would be able to fight those giants without dying? Sir Launcelot, Queen Guenver’s –”
“I’m just going to cut you off right there,” interrupts Launcelot. “You’re welcome, by all means you can tell your friends, and how about you sixty women take all the riches in the castle and divide it up among you, as partial recompense for your troubles. I don’t need any of it.”
“Oh, one thing. Does this castle belong to anyone? If I’ve just given you permission to steal from some local lord I should probably renege on that.”
“This is Castle Tintagil, once home to Duke Gorlas, who wed Igraine, then died fighting the forces of Uther Pendragon. Uther in turn married Igraine and begat Arthur, now king,” says Alma, who apparently remembers as far back as Book I.
“Okay, so, it’s Arthur’s, I guess, and he certainly won’t mind. So, great. I’ll be going now.”
And Launcelot rides off.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: Later, we find out Tintagil has become King Mark of Cornwall’s seat of power. What’s up with the giants, then?