Sunday, May 31, 2015

Not Even Not Zen 6: Kay's Prank

Since I haven't finished today's story yet, this is one based on the Arthurian legends. Plenty of writers have offered their takes on King Arthur and his court at Camelot. I'm not tempted to join in. I wrote this because the dialogue occurred to me during a long commute.

Kay's Prank

"Cookie was making something in the kitchen and it didn't turn out," said Kay. He set down a thick, clay mug with a heavy syrup in it. It seemed that the syrup had hardened around a spoon that had been used to dip into it. "Bet you a penny that you can't get the spoon out of that jar."

"Without breaking it?" Lancelot touched the wooden handle.

"Without breaking it, of course. Cookie would be mad."

Sir Lancelot dug into his task. The other knights urged him on. When he couldn't get it on the first try, the knights laughed. One said, "I think he moved it!"

"Really?" Kay peered close. "Maybe. That stuff is murder, though. Try it again, Lance."

After several tries and more tries again by Kay and Palamedes, they all agreed that the spoon couldn't be moved.

"Hah! Arthur will be here soon." Kay pounded the table in delight. "Let's give it to him. And when he can't get it out we'll say, 'You can pull a sword from a stone but not a spoon from a jar?'"

Lancelot laughed. He and Kay were the only ones brave enough to play a prank like this. Sure enough, in a few minutes Arthur and Merlin retired from the courtroom and strode into the antechamber.

"Arthur, my lord," said Kay. "You must give this spoon a go. I'll bet you a penny that you can't pull it out of the jar."

"Without breaking the jar," added Lancelot.

"Three tries for a penny."

"Really?" exclaimed Arthur. "That's awfully generous."

Instead of pulling on the spoon immediately, he inspected it. His gaze lasted only a few seconds but it made Lancelot and Kay uncomfortable.

"Who else has tried this?" said Arthur.

"Everyone," admitted Kay.

"Right." Arthur plucked the jar off the table and walked across the back hallway into the second kitchen. There, he found a pot of water boiling and carefully set the jar inside it. The cook's assistant alertly moved aside to give the king room. "Soon have it out."

"That's cheating!" said Kay. He followed him halfway, about forty feet.

"It's not," countered Merlin. "Quite according to your rules. Was this a prank, Kay?"


"Yes," said Lancelot. "And when he couldn't do it, we were going to tease him about how he pulled his sword from a stone but couldn't take a spoon from a cup."

"Serves you right, then," concluded Merlin. He flipped his beard in Lance's direction.

"What should I do with my penny, Merlin?" asked Arthur as he rubbed his hands in exaggerated anticipation.

"Spend it all in one place."


"Give it as a treat, I think, for someone who's been good lately. Your page or the scullery maid or the dog boy."

"I haven't given the dog boy anything in quite a while. And the dogs have been quite good."

"Done. You have got a penny, haven't you, Kay?" Merlin raised his eyebrow at the senschal.

"Damn." Kay felt for his coin purse. "I'd better go get one. But that spoon isn't out yet. The bet isn't over. Will you wait until I come back?"

"If it's soon," agreed Arthur.

"Damn again," muttered Kay. As he left, he could be heard to utter, "At least it's the dog boy."

Arthur and Merlin relaxed at the table. Lancelot and Palamedes rose to make room. The older knight paced while the younger one propped himself against a wall.

"Why does Sir Kay like the dog boy so much?" asked Lancelot.

"He was a dog boy himself, for a while."

"What, a knight's son?"

"It was for only a summer, as a punishment. Kay wasn't punished by it. He wasn't very good at it either, in the beginning. But he was getting better toward the end. I think his father pulled him from the job because it was clear that Kay was enjoying himself. He always did like dogs. He wasn't good with them, not until he spent time as their caretaker. But he always admired them."

"Why do you ask?" Merlin's eyes narrowed.

"I just wondered … why did you choose the dog boy?"

"It will take the sting out of losing the bet. That's something you may want to remember, Lance, as you keep winning game after game. You're good. Sometimes it's important to take the sting out of the losses for other men."

"No one does that for me," observed Lancelot. "The few times that Gawain has won ..."

"It's something that winners do," said Arthur in an overriding voice. "Winners can afford to be gracious. Even Gawain is gracious with those he beats handily. He would never be that way with you unless he started beating you all the time. Is that how you want it?"

Lance's head twitched. A shudder ran through him and visibly moved his shoulders.


  1. :) Cute story. Arthur using brain not brawn...brings on some Disney songs in my head. I always have pondered on Kay as a knight...but he did have the swordplay on his side. :)

  2. I was really introduced to the characters through Le Morte D'Arthur, not quite the original epic poem by Mallory but a prose translation by Caxton. In this version, Kay is a different character, still brash and a bit of a braggart, but an ordinary knight for the most part.

    He promises during a calvary charge to unseat some important kings (I forget which) and makes good on the promise. That's by far the high point of his career. He is a buffoon in other parts, no match for the other knights of the Round Table. But when he is wounded, Guinevere helps him to retire honorably.

  3. From the subtext, one gathers that Guinevere remembers the time that Kay saved Arthur in battle early in Arthur's career.