Lynette was furious. She’d traveled for days to get to Arthur’s court, riding hard, sleeping rough, terrified for her sister Lyonors the whole time; waited for two days to get an audience with the King - and when she finally made her request, what did he do? He sent the kitchen-knave with her! Not even a proper knight, and she’d asked for Lancelot - the best knight Arthur had.
Lynette was beyond fury; she was beyond words. Now the kitchen-boy followed behind her, fitted with armour and the like, but silent as the dumb sack of potatoes she knew he was; his only words to her had been “Lead, and I follow.”
She wasn’t sure who she was more angry with - the King or the stupid kitchen-knave who rode behind her. Sure, he looked like a fine noble now, with his charger and his gleaming armour, but nothing could take away the knowledge that he was the King’s insult to her genuine request.
She was so distracted in her anger that she didn’t realise she’d passed the route that she’d taken from the Castle Perilous, the one that had been cleared by Arthur’s knights, until it was far too late. Wonderful. “You’re going to get a chance to prove your mettle, knave,” she called, not bothering to keep the sneer out of her voice. “I’ve passed the safe route through the woods - the one we’re on now is unguarded. Keep your eye out for bandits.”
“Lead, and I follow,” was the kitchen-knave’s only reply.
Gareth was trying to take everything in stride, as a knight and a prince should. But it was hard. It wasn’t the quest that had him worried - he’d bested his oldest brother, Gawain, a full-fledged knight, in combat, for heaven’s sake. No, it was the complete lack of faith everyone seemed to have in him that was wearing on his patience - first his mother, then the Lady Lynette, then Sir Kay, Arthur’s steward and Gareth’s first master. At least Arthur had given him the quest, was giving him a chance.
That was what was keeping him going - the knowledge that if he completed the task set ahead of him, he would be made a knight of Arthur’s court, a member of the Round Table and a citizen of Camelot.
That, and imagining the look on Lynette’s face when she finally found out he was not merely a kitchen-knave, but nobly born - a prince, in fact, with two older brothers in Arthur’s court already.
He’d show her.
The next morning Gareth and Lynette began their approach to the Castle Perilous. At the first river, there stood the first of the brother-knights, the one who called himself the Morning Star.
Gareth was fairly sure he could take him, impressive though his entourage and armour may have been.
“Scared, kitchen-knave?” asked Lynette. “Last chance to run. No one would care - you’ve no honor to shame by fleeing a fight.”
“I’d rather hear encouragement from you, Lady,” Gareth said, pulling his lance out and laying it across his saddle. “But insults are as good a prod to action as any. I will defeat him.”
Sure enough, within five minutes, the former Morning Star had fallen, and was on the ground with Gareth’s sword at his throat, though Gareth’s shield had been broken in the fight.
“Please! I yield! Don’t kill me!” the fallen knight cried, eyes wide in terror.
“Of course not,” said Gareth. “That is, I won’t if the lady asks me not to.”
“Excuse me?” Lynette demanded. “ I ask you a favor, kitchen-knave? I think not.”
“Then he shall die,” Gareth determined, raising his sword, but holding back a smile. He knew she wouldn’t let him kill the man, but he wanted to see what excuse she came up with.
“Wait!” Lynette cried, and he paused. “Not so fast. Don’t kill someone who’s higher-born than you, kitchen-knave. The King does not look kindly on the spilling of noble blood.”
“The lady speaks well, and her will is my pleasure,” said Gareth, offering the knight a hand up and pulling him to his feet. “Go to Camelot and present yourself, and ask the King’s pardon for breaking the law. Tell Arthur that his kitchen-knave sent you. I will speak on your behalf when I return to court. But I’ll take your shield, since you seem to have need of it no longer,” he added with a good-natured grin, albeit one that held an edge. Then he turned to Lynette. “Lead, and I follow,” he said, gesturing toward the road, and with a murderous look at him she spurred her horse into a canter, leaving him in the dust.
“Don’t think this changes anything , kitchen-knave,” she tossed back at him as she passed over the bridge.
Gareth slung his new shield on his back with a wry smile, urging his horse after her.
They arrived at the next river crossing about an hour and a half later, to be met by the second brother, the Noon Sun. His gilded armour gleamed in the light, and he sat on his horse in the middle of the river, barring the way.
“Lady Lynette!” the rogue knight called. “Have you brought Lancelot as your sister’s champion to face my brother Death?”
“I’ve brought King Arthur’s kitchen-boy,” she called back. “He’s already defeated your brother the Morning Star.”
“What?” roared the knight, and slammed his visor down over his face, drawing a massive broadsword from its sheath at his side.
“Back, Lady,” Gareth said, already spurring his horse into the river. The young knight exchanged a series of furious blows with the Sun, but as the Sun raised his arm for another stroke, his horse lost its footing on the smooth stones of the riverbed and fell, and the Sun fell with it, the water carrying him swiftly away.
Gareth leapt from his horse to the bank, lance in hand, and threw himself on his stomach, stretching the lance out to the defeated knight. “Grab on!” he yelled, and pulled the Sun, in his gleaming golden armour, back to safety.
“I - yield - ” the rogue knight managed to say between coughs.
“Good,” said Gareth, all business. “Follow your brother to the King and ask pardon for your crimes. I will speak on your behalf when I return to court.”
The Sun nodded and began trudging down the path towards Camelot, armour squeaking and shoes squelching at every step.
“Lead, and I follow,” said Gareth to Lynette, with a grin that was mischievous and questioning at the same time.
“That’s not a proper victory,” Lynette told him. “His horse tripped.” But one corner of her mouth twitched upward, and when she realised he’d seen it, she wheeled her horse and led the way across the river, spine ramrod straight.
Laughing softly to himself, Gareth followed.
The sun was setting when they arrived at the third river crossing, where the eldest brother, the Evening Star, guarded the bridge. Challenges were exchanged and Gareth rode forward to do battle once more.
The battle with the Evening Star was a long and arduous one - the older knight wore hardened skins beneath his tarnished armour, and even though Gareth struck him so hard that bits of his armour would fly off, he couldn’t get through the skins.
“Oh - that was a mighty blow - what? He’s not down yet? You call yourself a knight, kitchen-boy?” Lynette couldn’t seem to make up her mind whether to cheer him on or insult him, but Gareth took both as spurs to his flagging endurance.
Then Gareth swung at the Evening Star with all his might. The older knight blocked the blow, but it shattered his sword and Gareth laughed in exhausted triumph. “Yield, sir!”
But the knight leapt at him instead, trying to wrestle him to the ground. Gareth seized him and tossed him bodily into the river, then sank to his knees in the centre of the bridge, panting.
Lynette trotted up, leading his horse, and he looked up at her, a small smile crossing his face as he took his reins back from her and swung himself up onto his sweat-flecked horse. “Lead, and I follow,” he told her, but she shook her head.
“You’ve earned the title of knight, kitchen-boy. I am impressed - even though you’re nothing but a kitchen-knave, you complete the deeds of a knight. I am sorry to have doubted you.”
“Thank you, Lady,” he said. “But you should be asking the King’s pardon, not mine. Do you think he would have sent me with you if he knew I could not help you?”
“I - I suppose not,” Lynette murmured, rather abashed. “But you cannot blame me for thinking so!” she added quickly, regaining some of her spirit. They rode on toward the caves just before the Castle Perilous. They would spend the night in the caves before going on to face the last brother - the one who went by the name Night, or Death; the one who held Lynette’s sister, the Lady Lyonors, hostage.
Suddenly from behind them came a shout: “Turn and fight, rogue knight - I will avenge my friend!”
Gareth spun to see a knight in unfamiliar armour charging toward him and readied his lance. Yet at the first pass he was knocked out of the saddle, so quickly that it seemed the other knight had done nothing. Gareth, on his rear in the grass, began to laugh helplessly, pulling his helmet off. “Three knights I faced today, and it is the fourth that gets me!”
Lynette stared at him as if he were mad. Then the other knight flipped up his visor. “Gareth! I thought you were one of the rogue knights - you had the Morning Star on your shield.” It was Lancelot, and Gareth suddenly felt a good deal better about being unhorsed so easily - Lancelot was the greatest knight of Arthur’s court and undisputed champion when it came to the joust.
Lynette was still furious with Gareth for laughing after he’d been defeated - she’d been terrified for his life - and her sense of offended honor had returned tenfold when Lancelot had appeared. “So now Arthur sends Lancelot to help? Now ?”
“This quest is still Gareth’s,” Lancelot clarified. “The King sent me behind to keep an eye on him. But I was a bit delayed.” Gareth laughed at this.
“You missed all the fun! Well, you can come with us to the caverns, and then the Castle Perilous, Sir Lancelot,” he said. “It is good to have you.”
That evening, as they sat around the fire, they discussed strategies for the coming day. “He will be expecting Lancelot,” Lynette said. “He holds my sister hostage, and I swore to bring back Lancelot as her champion - he would not let me go otherwise. And he will not be expecting any other, since the King would have no reason to send any other.” Clearly she was still somewhat bitter.
“Well, it is my quest,” Gareth said, “and I do plan on finishing it. He will have to fight me.”
“But he will suspect something is wrong - that you are not Lancelot - and then he may harm my sister,” Lynette fired back.
“Here’s an idea,” Lancelot suggested. “Gareth can have my horse and my shield. Then this knight who calls himself Death will suspect nothing.”
“Another disguise!” Gareth laughed. “I am for it, if you are willing, Lancelot.”
“It is a good plan,” Lynette acknowledged.
“We are settled, then,” Gareth said, grinning. “Well! I am fighting Death in the morning, and I have fought hard today. I am going to bed.” And with that, he pulled his cloak around him and was asleep in ten seconds flat.
Lynette and Lancelot watched him for a while, the fire crackling softly between them.
The next morning, they set off for the Castle Perilous. When they arrived, they saw a massive black pavilion on the grounds outside the castle, and a huge knight in black armour with a human skull topping his helmet waiting near it.
Lynette let out a gasp and pointed to the upper windows of the castle. “Lyonors,” she whispered. Gareth followed her gaze and spotted a lovely lady looking anxiously down on the grounds.
“That is your sister?” he asked. Lynette nodded. He gave her a smile. “Don’t worry. I shall defeat this knight Death.” And he kicked his horse forward, Lancelot’s shield on his arm.
“So you are the one they call Death!” he shouted to the unmoving black knight. “Why do you terrorise the people of this castle?”
Death made no reply, and his cold grimness sent a shiver down even Lancelot’s spine. Lynette was pale, and clutched her reins very tightly as she watched Gareth canter closer to the black knight. Then suddenly the two knights were charging at each other, and in the blink of an eye, the black knight had been unhorsed. But he was getting to his feet. On the next pass, Gareth swung his sword and split the skull that rested on top of the knight’s helmet; on the pass following he knocked the helmet off the man -
And he was not a man at all. He was merely a boy, younger than Gareth himself, face full of terror. “Don’t kill me!” he cried, throwing up his hands and falling on his knees. “My older brothers - they made me do it! They didn’t think anyone would get to the castle! They thought they could take care of Lancelot themselves!”
Gareth began to laugh. “Terror and darkness indeed,” he said with a grin. “You will be spared, boy. The blame is not yours.”
“A feast! Sir Gareth has conquered Death!” came a shout from the castle, echoed by all who had been watching, and the inhabitants of the castle came out on the lawn. A feast followed, and then someone struck up a tune.
“Dance with me, Lynette?” asked Gareth, looking down at the young woman.
“Lead, and I follow,” Lynette replied with a smile, taking the laughing knight’s hand.
And he that told the tale in older times
Says that Sir Gareth wedded Lyonors,
But he, that told it later, says Lynette.