Gareth served in the kitchen of the king only one month, for his mother became sorry for the promise she had asked of him, and sent armor for him to Arthur’s Court, with a letter to the king telling who the youth was. With great joy Gareth then went to Arthur and said:
“My lord, I can fight as well as my brother Gawain. At home we have proved it. Then make me a knight,—in secret, for I do not want the other knights to know my name. Make me a knight, and give me permission to right the first wrong that we hear of.”
The king said gravely:
“You know all that my knights promise?”
“Yes, my lord Arthur. I am willing to promise all.”
“I will make you my knight in secret, since you wish it,” Arthur said, “except that I must tell Sir Lancelot. He is my dearest knight, and I keep no secrets from him.”
Gareth said that he should be glad to have Sir Lancelot know. Accordingly the king spoke to Sir Lancelot about Gareth.
“I have promised him that he may right the first wrong we hear of,” said Arthur, “but as he has not yet proved what he can do, I want you to take a horse and follow him when he sets forth. Cover up the great lions on your shield so that he will not know who you are.” Sir Lancelot agreed. Then Gareth was secretly made a knight.
That same day a beautiful young damsel came into Arthur’s hall. She had cheeks as pink as apple blossoms, and very sharp eyes.
“Who are you, damsel?” asked he king, “and what do you need?”
“My name is Lynette,” she said, “and I am of noble blood. I need a knight to fight for my sister Lyonors, a lady, also noble, rich, and most beautiful.”
“Why must she have a knight?” questioned Arthur.
“My lord King, she lives in Castle Perilous. Around this castle a river circles three times, and there are three passing-places, one over each circle of the river. Three knights, who are brothers, keep a constant guard over these passing-places, a fourth knight, also a brother, clad in black armor, stands guard in front of my sister’s castle. We have never seen this knight’s face or heard his voice, but his brothers tell us he is the most powerful and daring knight in the world. All these four keep my sister a prisoner.”
“Because they want her to marry one of them so that they can have her great wealth. She refuses, but they say that they will have their way. In the meantime, they demand that you send Sir Lancelot to fight with them. They hope to overthrow Sir Lancelot, thus proving themselves the greatest warriors in the land. But I believe that Sir Lancelot Could overthrow them; therefore, I have come for him.”
Arthur remembered his promise to Sir Gareth, and did not speak of Sir Lancelot, but asked:
“Tell me what these four knights, your enemies, are like.”
“The three I have talked to are vain and foolish knights, my lord,” answered the damsel. “They have no law, and they acknowledge no king. Yet they are very strong, and therefore am I come for Sir Lancelot.”
Then Sir Gareth rose up, crying:
“Sir King, give me this adventure.”
At this, Sir Kay started up in anger, but Gareth continued:
“My King, you know that I am but your kitchen boy, yet I have grown so strong on your meat and drink that I can overthrow an hundred such knights.”
The king looked at him a moment, and said:
At this all the knights were amazed. The damsel’s face flushed with anger.
“Shame, King!” she cried. “I asked you for your chief knight, and you give me a kitchen boy!”
Then, before any one could prevent, she ran from the hall, mounted her horse, and rode out of the city gate. Gareth followed, and at the doorway found a noble war horse which the king had ordered to be given him. Near by were the two faithful servants who had followed him from his mother’s home. They held his armor. Gareth put it on, seized his lance and shield, jumped upon his horse, and rode off joyfully.
Sir Kay, who was watching, said to Sir Lancelot:
“Why does the king send my kitchen lad to fight? I will go after the boy and put him to his pots and pans again.”
“Sir Kay, do not attempt to do that,” said Sir Lancelot. “Remember that the king commanded him to go.”
But Sir Kay leaped on his horse and followed Gareth.
Meanwhile, Sir Gareth overtook the damsel and said:
“Lady, I am to right your wrong. Lead and I follow.”
But she cried:
“Go back! I smell kitchen grease when you are near. Go back! your master has come for you.”
Gareth looked behind and saw that Sir Kay was riding up to him. When Sir Kay was within hearing distance, he shouted:
“Come back with me to the kitchen.”
“I will not,” said Gareth.
Then Sir Kay rode fiercely at the youth. Gareth, however, struck him from his horse, and then turned to the damsel, saying:
“Lead on; I follow.”
She rode for a long time in silence, with Gareth a few paces behind her. At last she stopped and said:
“You have overthrown your master, you kitchen boy, but I do not like you any better for it. I still smell the kitchen grease.”
Sir Gareth said, very gently:
“You may speak to me as you will, but I shall not leave you till I have righted your wrong.”
“Ah!” she said, scornfully, “you talk like a noble knight, but you are not one,” and she again galloped in front of him.
Presently, as they passed a thick wood, a man broke out of it and spoke to them:
“Help! Help! they are drowning my lord!”
“Follow! I lead!” shouted Gareth to the damsel, and rushed into the wood. There he found six men trying to drown a seventh. Gareth attacked them with such vigor that they fled. When the rescued man had recovered, he thanked Gareth warmly.
“I am the lord of the castle yonder,” he said, “and these are my enemies. You came in time.”
Then he begged Gareth and the lady to stay all night in his castle. They agreed, and he led the way. He took them into his large hall and was about to seat them side by side at a dining table. But the damsel said in scorn:
“This is a kitchen boy, and I will not sit by him.”
The lord looked surprised. He took Gareth to another table and sat beside him. After they had eaten, he said:
“You may be a kitchen boy, or the damsel may be out of her mind, but whichever is the case, you are a good fighter and you have saved my life.”
The next morning Gareth and the damsel set forth. They rode for a while in silence, and then she said:
“Sir Kitchen Boy, although you are so low, I should like to save your life. Soon we ar4e coming to one who will overthrow you; so turn back.”
But Gareth refused. In a little while they came to the first circle of the river. The passing-place was spanned by a bridge. On the farther side of the bridge was a beautiful pavilion, draped in silk of gold and crimson colors. In front of it passed a warrior without armor.
“Damsel,” he cried, “is this the knight you have brought from Arthur’s Court to fight with me?”
“Ah!” she said, “the king scorns you so much that he has sent a kitchen boy to fight with you. Take care that he does not fall on you before you are armed, for his is a knave.”
The warrior went inside his tent for his armor, and the damsel said to Gareth:
“Are you afraid?”
“Damsel,” he said, “I am not afraid. I would rather fight twenty times than hear you speak so unkindly of me. Yet your cruel words have put strength into my arm. I shall fight well.”
Then the knight came forth all in armor, and he said:
“Youth, you are a kitchen boy. Go back to your king; you are not fit to fight with me.”
Gareth rode at him fiercely, saying:
“I am of nobler blood than you.”
He fought so well that soon his enemy was overcome. Then Gareth said:
“Go to Arthur’s Court and say that his kitchen boy sent you.”
When the knight had departed, Gareth rode on, with the damsel in advance. After a little while she stopped her horse, and when he had caught up with her, she said:
“Youth, I do not smell the kitchen grease so much as I did.”
Then she galloped off, laughing over her shoulder, while Gareth followed her, a little more slowly.
When they reached the second circle of the river, the damsel said:
“Here is the brother of the knight you overthrew. He is stronger than the first. You had better go home, kitchen boy.”
Gareth answered nothing. Out of the tent by the bridge which crossed the second circle of water, came a knight, clad in armor which glowed like the sun. Lynette shouted to him:
“I bring a kitchen boy who has overthrown your brother.”
“Ah!” shouted the knight, and rode fiercely at Sir Gareth.
The two fought for a long time. The warrior was strong, but Sir Gareth was stronger, and at last overthrew him, and sent him back to Arthur’s Court.
The damsel Lynette had ridden far ahead of him. When he came near her, she said:
“The knight’s horse slipped, and that is why you overcame him. And now are you ready to fight with the third knight, for there he stands?”
At the third and innermost circle of the river stood the third knight, clad not in armor, but in hardened skins. Sir Gareth saw that he was more powerful than his brothers. The two at once began to fight on the bridge, but Sir Gareth’s sword could not pierce the hard skins. Again and again he tried and failed. He grew tired, and began to fear that he should be conquered. But all at once, when his strokes were becoming feeble, Lynette cried out to him:
“Well done, good knight! You are no kitchen boy, but a brave lord. Strike for me! Do not lose. You are worthy to be a Knight of the Round Table.”
When Sir Gareth heard this, he was so encouraged that he made a final great effort and threw his enemy over the bridge into the water. Then he turned to Lynette saying:
“Lead; I follow.”
But Lynette, proud now of her valiant escort, and humbled and ashamed at her misjudging of him, said:
“No, we shall ride side by side. I am very sorry I called you a kitchen boy, for I know that you are a noble knight.”
They rode happily side by side till dusk, when they came in sight of Castle Perilous. Just as they were about to cross the moat, a knight overtook them. It was Sir Lancelot, who had been delayed because he had stopped to help Sir Kay after Sir Gareth had thrown him from his horse.
The great knight, as he rode up to the two in the twilight, seeing only the shields which Sir Gareth had taken from the three knights, thought the young man was an enemy, and attacked him. Sir Lancelot was so strong that he soon overcame the youth.
As he fell, Lynette cried out in shame and sorrow, and Sir Gareth said:
“Oh, I am thrown.”
Sir Lancelot knew Sir Gareth’s voice, and raised him up, saying:
“I am Lancelot, and I am sorry to have overthrown you, my friend.”
Sir Gareth said that it was no dishonor to be beaten by Sir Lancelot. Then the three rode into the castle, and there they met the fourth knight, who was all covered with black armor.
Sir Lancelot wished to fight with him, but Sir Gareth would not permit it.
“This must be my adventure,” he said.
Sir Gareth rode at the knight, expecting to meet a very strong man, but he easily unhorsed him. His enemy cried:
“O spare my life; I am not a knight.”
Then he took off his helmet and showed the face of a young boy.
“My three brothers made me pretend to be a fierce knight,” he explained. “They thought it would make people more afraid if they believed we were four strong knights.”
Sir Lancelot and Sir Gareth laughed heartily, and so did Lynette. They took the boy into the castle, where Lynette’s sister, Lyonors, who was now freed from her money-loving captors, greeted them with much joy. She put before them a great feast, and this time Sir Gareth and Lynette sat side by side. Afterwards a marriage was made between theme, and they went to live with King Arthur in Camelot.