The next morning Linet and Gareth get back on the road, through the woods and over hills and they come to a wide river with a ford across it, guarded by a pair of knights.
“There’s two of them, Prettyboy,” says Linet. “You going to just turn around and go back to the kitchens, now?”
“Heck no,” says Gareth. “Two to one, that’s fine. I’d take on eight to one!” And he charges forward and fights the knights, both at once, out in the middle of the ford. Gareth dehorses one and knocks him into the water, where he drowns, and the other knight pulls back to the riverbank, where he and Gareth duel for a while until Gareth knocks his helmet (and head) off.
“See? Let’s go,” he tells Linet.
She sniffs dimissively. “Those poor knights, slain by a kitchen boy. You probably think you killed through prowess at arms, you silly, stupid man. But no, Prettyboy, I saw it clearly: the first one slipped in the water and drowned, and the other was looking the other way and you came up behind him and killed him with a trick.”
“You know, lady, I’m starting to tire of your attitude,” mutters Gareth. “I am seven feet tall, after all.”
“What was that?”
“Don’t get any ideas, farm boy, I mean assistant pig-keeper, I mean kitchen boy, I mean… yes, kitchen boy. I don’t care if you live or die. It’s not as if I liked you or anything, but just for your own good, maybe you should turn around and go home, because otherwise you’ll get yourself killed.”
“I’m following you, milady, come what may.”
And Gareth and Linet ride on, into a countryside which is all black. It’s like the lair of a villain from the 1966 Batman TV show, it’s so heavily themed: there are black trees, from which hang black banners. There’s a black shield upon the black earth, and a big black spear sticking up. There’s a big black stallion all in black silk tied to a black stone. On the horse: a knight in black armor with a black saddle.
Helpfully, Malory tells us this knight is the Black Knight of the Black Lands. Thanks, Malory. Wouldn’t have guessed that.
“He’ll kill you! Run for it, Prettyboy!” cries Linet.
“What? No! I am not running!” says Gareth. “Why do you insist that I can’t joust, despite all the evidence? I fought Sir Launcelot to a draw, for crying out loud!”
“Ho ho ho,” rumbles the Black Knight, all Santa-style. “So you’ve brought a champion from Camelot, have you? Big fella, seven feet tall!”
“No, no, no, Black Knight,” says Linet. “This is just a kitchen boy. He keeps following me. Really, you’d be doing me a favor if you killed him. But don’t kill him, he’s just unlucky. I’ve seen him kill what, almost a dozen knights by now, all through staggeringly bad luck on the part of his opponents. Man’s a jinx, he is.”
“Really,” says the Black Knight. “I’m amazed gentry have anything to do with him.”
“Well, he’s with me,” Linet says. “That’s probably why the lord in the previous chapter invited him to dinner. He just assumed Prettyboy here was a real knight, because he was escorting a real damosel.”
“Mmmmaybe,” says the Black Knight. “I suspect a trick. I’ll let your boy Prettyboy go, if he surrenders his horse and armor and weapon.”
Linet thinks this is a good deal, but Sir Gareth won’t have. “I bet you’d like my horse. It’s a good horse. But you aren’t getting my horse! Now I’m going to cross the Black country, because that’s where Linet is going, and either you can let me do it, or we can fight.”
“That so?” The Black Knight considers. “She says you’re a kitchen boy and she’d like to be rid of you. Maybe she’d be better off riding with me, instead of a churl.”
“Oh! Oh! You calling me a churl? It is on!”
And so Sir Gareth and the Black Knight joust.