Since Sir Owain tends to be a jerk going around in disguise and making all his relatives—including King Arthur himself—put out Missing Persons lists about him, portraits of him on whatever Camelot used for milk cartons, and generally assuming he was dead in the ditch somewhere, a fair amount of The Mabinogion’s Camelot segment is devoted to people going on quests looking for him.
One of my favorite exchanges is the result. King Arthur, now thinking that Owain is dead, has put out a call to his knights to go out into the land and find out Owain’s ultimate fate. Before anyone goes anywhere, though, he puts on a grand tournament…which of course Owain shows up to in disguise.
In a rare instance of poetic justice to Owain—the other one being where a dwarf gives him a good smack—his opponent is also in disguise. It’s Gawain (here called Gwalchmai), which, taking into account their uncle Arthur’s penchant for going incognito as the Black Knight, and also Arthur’s sisters Morgause and Morgan le Fay being enchantresses who regularly change their appearance, makes me think this whole disguise-y thing is a family trait.
But back to my favorite scene. Transcribed below, I’ve added a few footnotes for consideration:
“And the Knight [Owain] gave Gwalchmai a blow that turned his helmet form off his face, so that the Knight knew that it was Gwalchmai.
“Then Owain said, ‘My lord Gwalchmai, I did not know thee for my cousin, owing to the robe of honour* that enveloped thee; take my sword and my arms.’
“Said Gwalchmai, “Thou, Owain, art the victor; take thou my sword.”
“And with that Arthur saw that they were conversing, and advanced towards them.
“‘My lord Arthur,’ said Gwalchmai, ‘Here is Owain,** who has vanquished me, and will not take my arms.’”
“‘My lord,’ said Owain, ‘it is he that has vanquished me, and he will not take my sword.’
“‘Give me your swords,’ said Arthur, ‘and then neither of you has vanquished the other.’***”
*Read: You looked so good I didn’t recognize you. Yet another instance of Owain being a bit of a jerk.
**Wow, The Quest to Find Sir Owain was way easier than initially believed.