Once the partying and the charm offensive had died down, everyone pretty much assumed that Sir Tristram and the lovely Isoud would be wed. Certainly that’s what the lovely Isoud, Queen Isoud and King Anguish all expected. But Tristram kept failing to ask for her hand, and it started to bother Anguish. A few weeks after their return to Ireland, he took Tristram aside and asked what the holdup was.
“I figured you were going to use that boon I promised you to score my daughter’s hand. She likes you, you like her, I like you too, I don’t see the problem with that. What’s up?”
“Well, see,” Tristram began, and trailed off. “There’s this…” he started again, and trailed off again.
“Spit it out, pal! We’re all friends here.”
“I promised my uncle King Mark of Cornwall that I’d fetch the lovely Isoud back to his court so he could marry her,” Tristram said all in a rush.
“So I beg you to grant me that boon as you promised, so I can keep my promise, and deliver your daughter to my uncle.”
“She’ll be married to him. He’s a king; it’s a good match.”
“….didn’t you and she exchange rings? Certain promises were made of a remaining-faithful-to-one-another nature. At least that’s what she told me.”
“Yeah, well.” Tristram made a what-can-you-do gesture. “There was this lady-in-waiting, Sally, and… really I haven’t been faithful to her? So I should at least be faithful to my uncle?”
Anguish grunted. “I really feel you’re springing this on me somewhat unfairly. But fine. Fine. You know your heart. I’ll give you my daughter, the lovely Isoud, and you can turn around and pass her right over to King Mark, if that’s what you want. Fine.”
Long story short, the lovely Isoud and her henchwoman Dame Bragwaine boarded a boat with Tristram and Gouvernail and a load of sailors too (probably) to head back to Cornwall.
As they packed up, Queen Isoud (the lovely Isoud’s mother) popped in on Gouvernail and Bragwaine. She’d come with a gift for her daughter, to ensure a happy marriage: a magical love potion, with two doses. One for the lovely Isoud to drink on the wedding night, and one for King Mark to drink with her. Gouvernail and Bragwaine packed up the doses, and everyone set off.
Days went by. One day Tristram and the lovely Isoud were in Tristram’s cabin. They were thirsty. Why they were thirsty, why they were alone in Tristram’s bedroom together, whether they were making the most of this period before sleeping together would count as adultery instead of mere fornication, all of that Malory doesn’t go into. He just says they were thirsty. Tristram rooted through their bags, and found what he thought was a couple of pints of wine, in special bottles, secreted away.
“Look at that!” said Tristram. “My manservant and your henchwoman have hidden some really top-flight wine away in their baggage! It’s all marked with your mother’s seal and in a golden flask and so on.”
“Let’s be bad, and drink their wine!” suggested the lovely Isoud.
Which they did.
Sometime later, Tristram emerged from his cabin long enough to announce that the ship was no longer bound for Cornwall, but for someplace remote and safe where love would be celebrated and people were free to marry whomever and blah blah blah. So the steersman turned the boat around and started sailing aimlessly! Tristram and Isoud loved each other so well that never their love departed for weal or woe. It may have been legitimized by a magic potion, Malory tells us, but their love never departed the days of their life.
Eventually the ship landed at Castle Weeping. Funny story about Castle Weeping: any ship that put in there was searched. If a knight and a lady were found aboard, the Weeping soldiers took them prisoner. Then the knight was obliged to joust Sir Breunor, the lord of the castle. When Breunor won, the knight and the lady were both executed. If Breunor lost (this never happens) Breunor and his wife would in theory be executed instead. This was how they did things at Castle Weeping, Malory claims. The truth is a little more complex, but that’s not important right now.
Tristram and the lovely Isoud found themselves down in the Castle Weeping dungeons. A different knight and a different lady stopped by to visit them. “Hey, buddy, heard you got imprisoned,” said the knight and the lady. “Bummer, dude, super bummer.”
“What’s happening, now?” asked Tristram.
“At Castle Weeping if a knight and a lady come in on a boat they get taken prisoner and the knight has to fight Sir Breunor, and then he and the lady are slain. Heads go flying. Bummer, I know dude. Castle Weeping tradition.”
“That doesn’t seem like a good tradition to honor,” said Tristram.
“It gets worse,” continued the knight. “The lady only gets her head chopped off if she’s less pretty than Breunor’s current concubine. If she’s lovelier, she replaces the old concubine.”
“That’s really skeevy,” said Tristram.
“Am I prettier than Breunor’s current concubine?” asked the lovely Isoud. “Just for reference.”
“Of course you are,” said Tristram. “You’re the loveliest!”
“He’s correct on that one,” said the lady. “Compared to you, Breunor’s concubine is just so much dirty laundry.”
“Well, regardless, I’d better get this joust over with,” said Tristram. “Can you tell Breunor we can fight, oh, tomorrow morning?”
“Usually there’s a settling-in period of a few days…”
“Really? You want to rush it…?” The knight shrugged. “Okay, sure. We’ll leave you two alone here in the dungeon, then. Be back first thing in the morning, to escort you to the joust. Be ready! Don’t forget anything, because we won’t be able to come back and get it.”
Cut to the next morning, with Tristram and the lovely Isoud hanging out in one corner of Castle Weeping’s tournament field. Tristram had some armor and a horse he borrowed from the residents of Castle Weeping, not his usual stuff. All the folks in Castle Weeping fill the stands to capacity, ready to cheer and egg on the bloodsports. And in the other corner, we see Sir Breunor and his concubine!
Breunor was a big oaf of a guy. He had his concubine with him, all wrapped up in veils and scarves. “All right,” he said, strolling over to Tristram’s corner. “You understand the stakes?”
“I kill you and we get to leave,” Tristram said. “Pretty simple.”
“Whoa there cowboy, you’re getting ahead of yourself. First we determine whose lady is prettier.”
“Does that really matter?”
“Yes!” Breunor snapped. “Get your woman to show off the goods, already. If she’s not as pretty as mine, she dies, and the winner gets my woman. Otherwise, vice-versa but with your woman.”
“I am not really cool with this,” said the lovely Isoud.
“Whatever gets us through this quicker,” grumbled Tristram. “C’mon, c’mon.”
The lovely Isoud reluctantly stepped forward and struck a few poses. Apparently they weren’t provocative enough for Tristram, who, Malory says, poked her thrice about with his naked sword in hand until she sexed it up a little more. Seriously.
The crowd cooed over the lovely Isoud, and muttered among themselves about how Breunor’s current concubine was just so much dirty laundry by comparison.
Breunor, for his part, drew his own sword and directed his concubine to pose a bit, which she did (after stripping off some veils). Everyone agreed that the lovely Isoud was hands down the winner of this particular beauty pageant.
“Well, shoot,” said Breunor. “By the customs of Castle Weeping, I’m supposed to behead my concubine, so we can fight over yours. I like my concubine, though. I’d rather not do that.” This wasn’t going to end well for Breunor’s concubine, I think we can all see. I’ve resisted giving her any lines or a name for the same reason you don’t name the pig you’re going to slaughter for bacon. Okay, not a very flattering comparison, but Malory started it.
“Oh, oh, I see,” said Tristram. “You’d rather not kill your concubine just because the lovely Isoud is hotter? Now the shoe’s on the other side of the fence. How you like them apples?”
The crowd grumbled — they’d come to the joust expecting to see a woman beheaded, after all.
“It’s just the way things are done here,” Breunor said. “Nothing personal. No reason to get snippy. Your wench is hotter than mine, is all. Now I’m supposed to behead my wench, and then we can joust, but…”
Tristram got sick of Breunor’s hemming and hawing pretty quicklike. “Let me demonstrate just how ridiculous I think this whole situation is,” he said. Then he raised his sword and sliced Breunor’s concubine’s head clean off. Seriously!
“You… you… I can’t believe you… How dare you kill my wench!” roared Breunor. “You want to joust? I’ll give you a joust! Take thine horse!“
And so Tristram and Breunor fought. Tristram won. Eventually Breunor surrendered, which is to say, he threw down his weapon and dropped to his knees and asked for mercy. While he was, in Malory’s words, groveling, Tristram decapitated him, too. Seriously.
Afterwards the folks in the stands cheered. They argue among themselves whether Tristram was as good as Launcelot, or only almost as good. Launcelot wasn’t quite as big a guy as Tristram, but Tristram lacked Launcelot’s legendary endurance (and was also a tremendous asshole), so it was a tough call.
Around this time, one of Breunor’s men went off in search of Sir Galahad, to conjure with. This particular Sir Galahad was not the destined Grail-finder, though; he was “Galahad the haut prince,” son of Sir Breunor and Sir Breunor’s concubine. “So you know how your parents used to have heads,” the man started off…
Sir Galahad fetched his friend, a man you might remember: the King with a Hundred Knights! Good old Mister 100, last seen valiantly holding together a coalition of minor kings against a young Arthur way back in Book I. Galahad, backed up by Mister 100 and his hundred knights, rode into Castle Weeping, where he challenged Tristram to a joust.
And then they jousted! Oh, what a joust, blah blah blah. Tristram and Galahad were very evenly matched. After a few hours, Galahad had a lucky break or two against Tristram, and Tristram very nearly had his own head chopped off! But then Mister 100 and his men jumped the gun and rushed the jousting field in victory celebration, which prompted Tristram to cry foul. This was supposed to be a “Tristram vs Galahad” match, not a “Tristram vs Galahad b/w a hundred and one of Galahad’s friends” match.
“You sure you’re a knight?” jeered Tristram. “Knights fight fair! I don’t joust non-knights, and you don’t seem to qualify! This isn’t a joust, this is murder! I quit!” Tristram punctuated this by grabbing his own sword by the blade and holding the point against his own throat, while sticking the pommel into Galahad’s hand.
Mister 100 was ready to just kill Tristram and be done with it. “Guy’s a jerk.”
Galahad stopped him, though. “I’m moved by Tristram’s knightliness,” he announced. “This joust is over; mark it down as a draw.”
“Are you sure, kid?” asked Mister 100. “He did kill your parents. And he’s a singularly monstrous human being.”
“Yeah, well, I loved my father but much like Sir Tristram here, he was kind of a crazy supervillain,” said Galahad. “I see that now.”
“Well, yeah, sure,” admitted Mister 100. “He did that whole murder-joust thing. That wasn’t my cup of tea.”
“Probably we should have held an intervention or something for Dad before all this happened. I mean, this noble knight nearly died! You know, I almost thought he was Sir Launcelot, he’s so noble?” Galahad is using a special definition of noble.
“I’m not Sir Launcelot, I’m Sir Tristram,” Tristram said. “Sir Tristram de Lions, sent by King Mark of Cornwall to fetch back the lovely Isoud, daughter of King Anguish of Ireland.”
“And here I am!” the lovely Isoud interjected, because she hadn’t had a line in a while.
“I don’t think ‘noble’ means what you think it means,” grumbled Mister 100.
Galahad didn’t want to debate semantics; he wanted to avenge. “Okay, listen, here’s the deal. You go and meet Sir Launcelot, who is awesome we can all agree. I stay here and shut down the bloodsports at Castle Weeping. Deal?”
“Deal!” said Tristram. “I mean, I had no plans to meet Sir Launcelot, but whatever. Sounds good.”
Malory shifts gears unexpectedly at this point. One time there was a guy named Sir Carados, he announces. That mighty villain (who was 100% knight, 100% king, and 99% giant) fought Sir Gawaine. This was the same Sir Carados whose death we’ve heard about only second-hand (at the hands of Launcelot, in Dolorous Garde which was renamed Joyous Garde and witnessed by Orlene; for a death we don’t get to see we’ve gotten a lot of details). His brother Sir Turquine tried to avenge him in Book VI. Hey, speaking of, here’s the other end of that. Sir Carados was nasty, Malory says. By the end of their battle Carados had beaten Gawaine pretty badly. Rather than slay the knight, Carados took him prisoner.
As Carados carried Gawaine away on horseback towards his castle, which from context I deduce to be Dolorous Gard, Sir Launcelot wandered by.
“Why, Gawaine!” exclaimed Launcelot. “Hello! Fancy seeing you in these parts! How are you doing?”
“I’m bound hand and foot, lying semiconscious stretched across the back of a villain’s horse, how do you think I’m doing? Are you going to rescue me or what?”
“Fine, fine.” Launcelot cleared his throat. “Sir Carados! Set down that knight and let’s you and me joust!”
“Pfft,” said Carados. “I’m not scared of you.”
“Then fight me!”
“All right, I will!” And Carados tossed Gawaine aside and he and Launcelot jousted for a bit.
It did not go well for Carados. Launcelot smashed Carados’s helmet such that shards of metal were embedded in Carados’s brain, trampled him with his own horse, and finally decapitated him. It was pretty gory! Launcelot moved into Carados’s castle; he renamed it Joyous Gard. Malory totally forgets about Orlene, who he made such a point of mentioning before.
CUT TO Tristram, getting told this story by Mister 100.
“Okay, I think I’m going to put off my go-hunting-for-Launcelot plan then. Let’s just go back to Cornwall.”
So Tristram took the lovely Isoud back to Cornwall. Just as he’d threatened, King Mark married the lovely Isoud. He was motivated partially by the lovely Isoud being lovely, and partly because he wanted to solidify his alliance with Ireland, but mostly he wanted to spite Sir Tristram. At the reception, there was of course a jousting tournament (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 19!) Tristram won easily.
Some of the Cornish ladies-in-waiting were jealous of the lovely Isoud’s henchwoman Bragwaine: she’d just come in, all Irish, and now suddenly she was the new queen’s favorite. The ladies sent her into the woods to gather herbs, where they ambushed her, tied her to a tree, and left her to die while they enjoyed the jousting tournament.
Sir Palomides, last seen losing to Tristram during the Irish tournament back during Tristram’s first trip to Anguish’s court, happened by. He rescued her around the middle of her fourth day in the woods, which she appreciated. He took her to convent to recuperate.
At some point during this recuperation period, not right away, the lovely Isoud noticed that Bragwaine was missing. The lovely Isoud didn’t fret about Bragwaine or worry that she was in trouble. Instead the lovely Isoud merely moped. Why shouldn’t she have felt sorry for herself? After all, she was in this strange Cornish land. She was forced to eating nothing but game hens. She was married to Tristram’s skeevy uncle instead of Tristram. And on top of all that, her henchwoman had vanished! So she loitered near a well outside the castle, moaning about it. Palomides overheard her, and told her what had happened.
“I could go fetch her, if you want,” he offered. “Of course, I’d want an unspecified boon.”
“You bet,” said the lovely Isoud.
Palomides fetched Bragwaine, discovering that she had planned on just staying quietly at the convent where nobody would tie her to a tree for the crime being Irish. Notwithstanding half against her will, Malory tells us, Palomides hauled her back to the lovely Isoud.
“So what’s the boon? Because if it’s something wicked…”
“No no no,” said Palomides. “Listen, really it’s your husband Mark who can grant me the boon. Let’s go to him, and you can tell him how he owes me a favor.”
“Oh, all right.”
They found Mark in his throne room. There, Palomides asserted that his need was a wholly just one. “If you be a righteous king that ye will judge me the right.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” said Mark.
Mark wasn’t happy that the lovely Isoud had promised Palomides a boon, but he was willing to listen. Palomides then sprang his request. “Can I borrow your wife? I don’t want to steal her. I just want to borrow her. Not forever. Ten, twenty years. Once her most photogenic years are behind her, I’ll send her right back.”
Of course Mark’s first impulse was to kick Palomides out of Cornwall for making such an audacious request! But then he realized that Sir Tristram would eagerly go rescue his wife; Mark could agree to Palomides’s boon and then get her back. It was essentially a risk-free proposition. “Yeah, we can do that.”
“Hold on.” Palomides turned to the lovely Isoud. “Are you okay with running off with me?”
The lovely Isoud shrugged. “I don’t love you, Palomides. But then, I don’t love Mark, either. The one I love is barred to me, so it doesn’t matter who I’m with. I guess you won’t physically hurt me, which is as much as I can hope for. It’s all the same to me.”
You or I might respond to this by trying to comfort the lovely Isoud. I’d see if Wellbutrin might help her. But hearing that she was confident he wouldn’t physically hurt her, that was all the encouragement Palomides needed! He picked her up, and they departed together.
Mark searched for Tristram, but apparently he was out practicing his venery. Mark turned up Sir Lambegus, one of Tristram’s sidekick knights whom Malory just hadn’t bothered to mention up to this point (Sir Lambegus had been there the whole time!). Lambegus offered to rescue the lovely Isoud himself, or else die in the attempt,
“Sounds good!” Mark accepted the offer.
Lambegus caught up with Palomides, who was is severely disappointed Tristram sent an underling. “I had leifer thou hadst been Sir Tristram.”
“I believe you well, but when thou meetest with Sir Tristram thou shalt have thy hands full.” (It turns out some idioms are very old.)
Palomides and Lambegus fought! Palomides wounded Lambegus and declared himself the victor. When, afterwards, he looked around for the lovely Isoud, she was gone! Turns out she ran off into the woods to drown herself. Malory doesn’t explain why the lovely Isoud would seek suicide at this point; maybe he just assumes all women are one personal revelation away from suicidal depression on account of they’ll never be men. Malory’s a dick. Isoud had a depression-related disorder.
But I digress! This random passerby knight, Sir Adtherp, spotted the lovely Isoud thrashing around in a pond. Adtherp dove in and rescued her! He carried her off to his own castle, where he asked her who she was, and what on earth was going on.
The lovely Isoud wasn’t fully recovered from her drowning, but she got out something about having been taken prisoner by Sir Palomides.
“That ass!” Sir Adtherp left the lovely Isoud in the care of his wife, and rode off to avenge her, which didn’t go well for him.
Sometime later Sir Palomides approached Casa del Adtherp. The lovely Isoud, or perhaps Adtherp’s wife Angelica, had the drawbridge pulled up and the gate closed. Palomides shouted for her to come down and resume her new career as his property; she declined. Palomides responded by making camp right there on the road next to the Adtherps’ castle; he would wait her out.
Back at Tintagil, Tristram learned about the lovely Isoud’s more-or-less abduction at the hands of Sir Palomides. Sort of she’d been abducted, sort of Mark gave her away… Malory phrases it as she was gone with him, which is some decently ambiguous phrasing. Anyway, Tristram got pretty angry about the whole thing, not least at himself. If he hadn’t been out practicing his venery, he’d have been around to save her. Mark told him about how he’d sent Sir Lambegus off to do the job, which threw Tristram into a tizzy.
He mounted up and rode off to rescue Sir Lambegus, whom he just knew wasn’t nearly knightly enough to give Palomides proper what-for. He and his henchman/French tutor crossed Cornwall until they found Lambegus, slowly dying in the middle of a road. Tristram carted his limp form off to a handy hermitage and left him there to recuperate. Then he rode out again, but before he’d gone far, he found Adtherp likewise slowly dying in the road.
Adtherp recognized Tristram, even if Tristram didn’t know him, and explained that he had saved the lovely Isoud from drowning herself. “I also tried to stop Sir Palomides, but it didn’t go so hot.”
“Right, Isoud! My Isoud! Where is she?”
Adtherp coughed helplessly, then murmured that he left her in his castle. Also, he’d been severely injured and while he’s too knightly to mention it, he would have really appreciated a ride over to that hermitage where Lambegus was convalescing, or a convent, or anyplace really.
But Tristram had already ridden off, abandoning Adtherp to die alone of his injuries. Once again, Tristram was massive jerk! I wish I could say Adtherp would pull through, but he didn’t. Tristram was just in such a hurry, I guess, that he rode straight over to Adtherp’s castle. There he saw Palomides, camping outside. Palomides snored loudly as he lay sprawled out across the road. It was the third knight Tristram had seen that day, lying sprawled across the road, but unlike Lambegus and Adtherp, Palomides was just asleep.
“Gouvernail, my man! Go wake Palomides up so we can joust!” Tristram cried.
Gouvernail tried to wake Palomides up twice — first by gently whispering to him, and then (at Tristram’s urging) by poking him with a stick and shouting. Again, jerk move, Tristram, getting your French tutor to poke Palomides with a stick.
Palomides did eventually wake up! I guess this was a dramatic beat? If Palomides had just lain there sawing logs, Tristram couldn’t joust him. Simply slitting the man’s throat as though he were a peasant would have been out of the question.
Once awake, Palomides mounted his horse and donned his armor, not necessarily in that order. He and Tristram jousted, first on horseback and then on foot, for several hours. Eventually the lovely Isoud, who had been watching from high atop of the castle walls, called down to them.
“Alas!” she cried, “A deathly fight between the knight I love and also another knight whom I don’t love but with whom I have no particular quarrel, inasmuch as he stole me away from a husband for whom I feel nothing! You’re both so badly wounded, and surely Palomides will lose and die. My darling Tristram defeated you once already, you remember. And if you die now, you will die a Saracen.” Malory doesn’t know much about Islam, but he’s pretty sure that they don’t receive the sacrament of baptism, and therefore are doomed to hell for eternity. The lovely Isoud would have preferred Palomides not end up in hell. She was a softie that way.
Palomides and Tristram were nonplussed. They lowered their weapons, confused.
“So… what, exactly?” Tristram looked up at her. “You’re not asking us to quit jousting, are you? I mean, I love you and all, so I’d quit if you told me to, but…”
“Can you defeat him without killing him?” The lovely Isoud looked down at them and bat her eyes. “That’s all I’m asking, really.”
“Not really… I mean, are you willing to call it here? Draw?” Tristram turned to Palomides.
“I’d really rather not,” said Palomides.
“Please?” The lovely Isoud clutched her chest and squeaks at him.
“Okay, okay. Fine.” Palomides made a face. He and Tristram put their weapons away. “It’s a draw. Is there anything else you need from me, milady? Foot massage? Poetry recital? I’m pretty good at foot massages.”
“Oh, you know what? Yes, actually! I mean, not a massage.” Isoud had been thinking about this the other day. “If you could take a message from me to Camelot, that’s be super.”
“Go to Camelot, and tell Queen Guenever that I’m a nice lady she should befriend. We can be pen pals! And also tell her I said that the only love in these islands that compares to hers and Launcelot’s is mine and Tristram’s.”
Palomides sighed and looked down and kicks at the dirt and otherwise looked all dejected. “Fine. Whatever.”
“Bye Palomides! I don’t love you! Bye!”