Gareth of Orkney
Beaumains, Carahés, Charahes, Charehes, Charheries, Gaheret, Gahereth, Gaheriet, Gariet, Gariette, Garrett, Generez, Gerehes, Guerehes, Guerhees, Guerhes, Guerreet, Guerrehers, Guerrehes, Guerrehet, Guerrehiers, Guerrier, Karyet
The earliest form of his name is so similar to the earliest form of Gaheris that the two brothers may have originally been the same character. He first appears in Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval. His name may be an adaptation of the Welsh Gweir. His first significant adventure comes in the First Continuation of Perceval, in which he avenges a knight named Brangemuer by slaying the Little Knight. His story is expanded in the Vulgate Cycle, and Malory attaches to him a Fair Unknown story (which is particularly reminiscent of Renaut de Bâgé’s Guinglain).
The Vulgate Merlin and Malory offer two differing tales of his enfances. Merlin tells us that, with his brothers, he defected from Lot’s house and took service with Arthur. He came to court under unusual circumstances at a Pentecost feast, refusing to identify himself. He battled the early Saxon invasion and participated in the war against King Claudas. He was knighted either by Arthur or his brother Gaheris.
Gareth was one of the best knights of his arms of the world and probably remains today the best loved of the Orkney brothers, as well as one of the best loved members of Arthur's Round Table. His story is quite familiar. The last of the brothers (except, presumably, Mordred) to come to court, he appeared anonymously and asked Arthur for three gifts.
The first was to be fed for a twelvemonth, at the end of which time he would ask another two. Kay took charge of feeding him, nicknamed him Beaumains ('Fair-hands' indicating that they were insullied by work) in mockery, and put him in the kitchen. Both Lancelot and Gawaine befriended him, the latter not recognizing him as brother, and even Kay seems to have taken pride in Beaumains' strength in the sports of casting bars or stones.
At the end of the year, Lynette (Lynet) came to court requesting a champion for her sister Lyonors (Lyones) against Sir Ironside, alias The Red Knight of the Red Launds, who was besieging their castle. Beaumains made his remaining requests: that he be given Lynette's adventure, and that Lancelot be sent after them to dub him knight on command. To Lynette's chagrin, Arthur granted both gifts and Gareth went with her, accompanied by a dwarf who knew his real identity. Kay rode after them to give the kitchen boy his first test, and Beaumains promptly jousted him down; Lancelot came shortly thereafter and gave Beaumains a fall, but when they fought with swords, Gareth fought so well that Lancelot "dreaded himself to be shamed" and called a truce and knighted the young man.
Despite Lynette's continued mockery, for she had no wish for her cause to be championed by a scullion, or kitchen drudge, Gareth completed the adventure, conquering and either converting or slaying numerous knights on the way - Gherard and Arnold le Breusse, the four brothers Percard, Pertelope, Perimones, and Persant, and finally Ironside himself. He spared the latter's life and sent him to Camelot. (Tennyson, who changes and simplifies the tale somewhat in one of his best idylls, Gareth and Lynette, ends it with Gareth's victory at Lyonors' castle and marries Gareth to the livelier sister, Lynette.)
Malory continues the story quite a bit further: Gareth begs to see the lady he has just saved from Ironside, but Lyonors tells him he must first labor for a year to win greater fame and her love. Already in love with him, however, she enlists her brother Sir Gringamore to bring him to her with a mock kidnaping of Gareth's dwarf. Biding together in the castle after this practical joke, Gareth and Lyonors decide to consummate their love in advance of the wedding ceremony, but Lynette uses a bit of magical art to keep her sister an honest woman. Meanwhile, Pertelope, Perimones, Persant, and Ironside arrive at Arthur's court to describe their young conqueror's exploits. Queen Morgawse also comes to visit her brother Arthur, and her older sons learn of their relationship with Beaumains.
At Gareth's advice, Lyonors holds a great tournament at her castle on the feast of Assumption. Lyonors gives her lover a ring which enables him to fight in the tournament incognito, but he is recognized when his dwarf cunningly gets possession of the ring. Then Gareth slips away from the tournament and obtains lodging at the castle of the Duke de la Rowse by promising the Duchess to yield to the absent Duke whenever he meets him. Continuing, he kills a knight named Bendelaine in battle and defends himself successfully against twenty of Bendelaine's men who attack him seeking revenge. Gareth marries Lyonors at Kynke Kenadonne after a series of adventures.
During Arthur's war against the Roman Emperor Thereus, Gareth killed King Datis of Tuscany. In the Vulgate Lancelot, the Post-Vulgate, and Malory, Gareth has several other minor adventures which generally proved him a cut above his brothers. He prevented Gawain and Agravain from killing Gaheris in revenge for Morgause’s death, condemned his brothers for the murder of Lamorat, and attempted to dissuade Agravain and Mordred from exposing the affair between Lancelot and Guenevere.
In the Vulgate Mort Artu and in Malory, Gareth dies at the hand of Lancelot, who does not recognize him in the melee surrounding Guinevere's rescue by her lover. His death, which saddens Lancelot and angers Gawaine, precipitates the final tragedy, or (as the Mort Artu calls it) the war that will have no end. It has been suggested that there may have been a French romance (now lost) concerning Beaumains; in any event, the striking resemblance of Malory's tale to the situation of Fergus and perhaps to that of Chrétien de Troyes's Laudine convinced R.S. Loomis (in Arthurian Tradition and Chrétien de Troyes) that those various narrative sequences shared a common and doubtless oral origin.
His story, told by Malory, may have been based on a lost French romance.
When Gareth first came to Arthur's court, he was accompanied by two men mounted on horseback like himself and a dwarf on foot, who held all three horses while the men escorted Gareth into the hall. Once Gareth was established at court, the two men and the dwarf seem to have left, all without saying a word. Presumably they were servants or retainers from home and returned to Orkney. At the end of Gareth's year in the kitchen, when he obtained Lynette's adventure, the dwarf, apparently the same one, showed up again with his young master's horse and armor. After conquering Kay, Gareth mounted the dwarf on Kay's horse.
Little is said of the dwarf's opinions or services during the journey to Castle Dangerous; after Gareth had conquered the last knight on the way, the dwarf was went on ahead to the castle, where he sang his master's praises to Lyonors, describing all his victories and telling the lady that her champion ws the king of Orkney's son, nicknamed Beaumains by Sir Kay and dubbed knight of by Sir Lancelot - he declined, however, to give Gareth's real name. Lyonors had the dwarf carry ample provisions to a hermitage in her territory and then guide Beaumains and her sister to the hermitage from Sir Persant's city to spend the night, all which instructions the dwarf capably fulfilled. Returning alone to Castle Dangerous, the dwarf met Sir Ironside and boldly defied him on Gareths behalf, again praising his master and telling Ironside,
... it is marvel that ye make such shameful war upon noble knights.
Later, when Ironside were conquered and Lyonors had sent Gareth away, supposedly to prove his worth for a year, she made the dwarf the nub of lover's prank. Her brother Sir Gringamore, acting on her instructions, came stalking up from behind and kidnaped the dwarf while Gareth slept. Awakened by the dwarf's cries, Gareth promptly got up and rode in pursuit. Meanwhile, Gringamore go the dwarf to his own castle, where Lyonors and Lynette were waiting to question the dwarf as to Beaumains' birth and lineage, playfully threatening him with lifelong imprisonment unless he told all.
Probably recognizing the farcical nature of the affair, he replied that he "feared not greatly" to reveal his master's name and family [in effect, this entailed only adding Gareth's true name to what he had already told Lyonors] and met her threat with another in kind, mentioning all the damage Gareth would do in the country if he were angered. Gareth arrived, still thinking the matter was in earnest, and no doubt really would have done great slaughter in order to save the dwarf, whom he had had considerable trouble in tracking, had any slaughter proven necessary.
In the tournament at Castle Dangerous, Gareth fought wearing Dame Lyonors' ring, which concealed his identity by continually changing the color of his armor. When he rode off the field to "amend his helm" and take a drink of water, however, the dwarf took charge of the ring, ostensibly by prevent Gareth's losing it while he drank.
Whether Gareth's returning to the field without the ring was due to his own eager haste and forgetfulness or to the dwarf's cunning is unclear, but certainly the dwarf was well pleased to keep the ring, for he wished his master to be recognized. After the tournament, the dwarf followed Gareth into the woods, returned briefly to the castle to deliver Lyonors her ring and her lover's au revoir, and then rejoined Gareth. Presumably, although the dwarf now fades from attention, he continued to accompany and serve his master.
Malory gives much more information about Gareth's dwarf than about any other, but Gareth's may perhaps be considered an example of dwarf-knight relationshiops and of the duties of dwarfs to knights, which seem to resemble closely the duties of squires, except that squires would be expected to fight at need.
Sir Gringamore, brother of Dames Lyonors and Lynette, gave this,
a noble sword that sometime Sir Gringamore's father won upon an heathen tyrant,
to Sir Gareth; or, perhaps, merely lent it for the tournament at Castle Dangerous.