Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book VI Chapter XII
All right, now, Launcelot’s riding along, hitting up strange adventure after strange adventure, just having a good ol’ time. He’s dressed up as Sir Kay, which allows him to travel incognito. No one knows that he’s Sir Launcelot, so people aren’t constantly bugging him with questions about his relationship with Guenever, or trying to get him into bed, or challenging him on the grounds that if they can defeat him they’ll jump to the top of the rolls of knighthood. Launcelot is avoiding the paparazzi, basically.
At some point after the events of the previous chapter, he rides up on 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 — a different three than the three in the last chapter who were trying to kill Sir Kay for no clear reason — stand around, waiting for a chance to joust passersby.
Does Launcelot stop and joust? He does not. He just keeps on riding, doesn’t even slow down.
“Well, hell,” says 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?” asks the second knight, whose name is Sir Gilmere.
“I did!” says the third knight, Sir Raynold. “It was Sir Kay. I recognized the shield.”
“Kay? Kay?” Sir Gaunter would like 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,” announces Gaunter. He rides up on Launcelot from behind and shouts “Abide, thou proud knight Sir Kay, for thou shall not pass quit!”
Launcelot doesn’t say anything, he just sighs and shakes his head and lowers his spear and jousts Gaunter so hard Gaunter’s thrown from the saddle and lies insensible on the ground.
“Gadzooks!” says 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,” says Raynold. “You know what this means? Some guy murdered Kay and took his stuff!”
“Gadzooks again!” cries 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 Tristam, or Sir Pellas, the Good Knight. I mean, he’s probably not one of the three most badass knights in the country, right? Right?”
“Yeah, let’s go,” says Raynold, and he and Gilmere ride up on Launcelot, who actually just wanted to leave and was only making sure that Gaunter wasn’t going to die before riding off.
Gilmere charges the Man from Benwick, and of course he goes down in a single combat round, leaving just Raynold.
Raynold decides it’s time to try diplomacy. “So hello there, stranger,” he says. “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 sighs, again, and shakes his head, again, but doesn’t say anything. He lets Raynold come up on him and mounts a full defense, Raynold just battering uselessly against Launcelot’s shield.
This goes 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 slaughtered, there,” says Gaunter.
“We’ve got to help him!” says Gilmere.
So the other two charge in, and Launcelot sees this, and unleashes his multiple foe subduing whirling attack, which results in all three of them, Gaunter, Gilmere, and Raynold, lying on the ground in front of him.
“Avast, villain!” cries Raynold, and staggers to his feet…
“Enough!” Launcelot shouts. “I mean, come on, fun is fun, but you guys are going to get hurt if we keep doing this! Raynold, I know you, 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!” responds Raynold.
“Just surrender already!”
“I said surrender!”
The three knights reconsider. They’ve been dehorsed and knocked down at least twice each; they’re all bruised and sweaty. Launcelot is just sitting there on his horse, 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, and 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 rides off.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: I like these knight names: Gaunter, Gilmere, and Raynold. Solid, classy sounding knight names. Way better than “Brian of the Isles.” What do you think?
DISCUSSION QUESTION: Sir Kay gets around, huh?
I seem to recall from my readings of Le Morte that no one like Kay because he was kind of a loser and kind of a braggart. Like, he’s essentially just a fancy butler, right, but he thinks he’s this big thing, even though everyone could kick his ass. I can’t remember why I thought that since you seem to have gotten a better impression of him.
You know, I thought that too until I started following along here. I now honestly think Disney is to blame, and The Sword in the Stone has coloured my perceptions far, far deeper than I’d realized.
re: Sir Kay discussion question: Maybe the armor changing trick that Launcelot pulled is, like, a regular thing that knights do to Sir Kay. So basically everybody’s left a trail of chaos and destruction all over the British Isles while dressed up as Kay, and that’s why everyone’s so mad at him.