A month went by. Tristram just lay there in bed. His wound had become infected: Marhaus’s spear was poisoned with some nasty Irish poison. It wasn’t looking good four our boy. Mark sent out the call for a doctor or healer who could treat and save Tristram. Dozens came, with their poultices and their leeches, and, nothing. But then! Enter a mysterious lady that was a right wise lady. Her name? Malory doesn’t provide it, but let’s assume it rhymes with Timue. (NIMUE BATS CLEANUP 5!)
“I can get him conscious,” said Nimue. “But to get him back on his feet… he’s poisoned with an Irish poison. He needs Irish antivenom, and there’s only one place you can get that.”
Mark narrowed his eyes. “Go on.”
There was a long pause. Nimue waited as long as she could, but nothing. “Ireland,” she finally said. “Tristram needs to go to Ireland.”
After Nimue explained it a couple more times, Mark understood. He loaded up a ship with food and sailors and such, and put Tristram and Gouvernail (and also Tristram’s harp) aboard.
The ship sailed straightaway over to Ireland, and put in at a harbor near Anguish’s castle. There, Tristram (still bedridden on the ship) took his harp and played a song. Not just any song, a merry lay. The merriest lay that had ever been heard in Ireland! The Irish peasants who overheard it swooned, that such a merry lay could come out of a mysterious Cornish ship.
Anguish heard about it, of course. He called for the mysterious minstrel to come to his court and play, and that’s how Anguish learned about how the minstrel had been poisoned with Irish poison and needed medical attention.
This piqued Anguish’s interest, of course. “How did you come to be wounded, sir…?”
“I’m Sir Tristram. Wait. No. Forget that. I’m Sir, uh, Sir… Tram… trist.” Tristram was not a very good liar, but Anguish didn’t pick up on it.
“Sir Tramtrist, pleased to meet you. How did you come to be wounded so?”
“I was jousting for the defense of a lady’s honor. You wouldn’t know her. She’s in Cornwall. Liones, actually. That’s where I’m from. I was defending her honor, and I got wounded.”
“I’m not Sir Tristram.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. For let me tell you about my poor brother-in-law, the late Sir Marhaus — he was in Cornwall, you might have heard about it? Slain by Sir Tristram, sword lodged in his skull, very tragic.”
“Oh, yes, I’m familiar with how Sir Marhaus fell. Very familiar. I couldn’t be more familiar if I saw it happen, nay, if I committed the deed myself!” Tristram laughed nervously.
Anguish chuckled. “Now then, I have no reason to question any aspect of your story, Tramtrist. Let’s get you healed up, eh? Some of that fine Irish antivenom — I know just who to name your caretaker. My daughter, the lovely Isoud!” Sir Tristram, aka Sir Tramtrist (and if you think I’m making that up you’re wrong. That’s why Sir Tramtrist was in bold!) thus met Anguish’s daughter the lovely Isoud. It turns out that in addition to being the fairest maiden in Ireland, the lovely Isoud was an accomplished surgeon and physician.
In hardly any time, the lovely Isoud had healed “Tramtrist” right up. He fell for her hard, what with her saving his life and also being the fairest maiden in the country (hence her name). In return, he taught her to play the harp, and she fell for him, too.
Everything would have been just hunky-dory, except for a substantial issue, in the form of Sir Palomides. Sir Palomides was a rarity in Ireland: he was both Muslim and a knight. He was probably not the same knight as Sir Priamus, whom Gawaine converted to Christianity back in Book V; different names, different places, etc. Palomides bigtime wanted to marry the lovely Isoud; he sent her presents and flowers and kissed up to her father.
Tristram saw this; he was no fool. Palomides was a doughty knight, and well-intentioned, and he’d made it clear that while he’d been a devout Muslim, he was prepared to convert to Christianity to please the lovely Isoud.
Meanwhile the lovely Isoud knew Tristram only as “Tramtrist,” the itinerant Cornish ne’er-do-well. In all the time they’d spent together, somehow Tristram had totally failed to come clean about his identity. Instead he fretted in his bed.
Late in Tristram’s convalescence, King Anguish announced a jousting tournament, because we’ve gone this whole Book so far without a tournament. Grand prize in this tournament was the hand of King Anguish’s cousin, the Lady of the Lands, and with it control of the entire of-the-Lands estate, which was a big one. (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 18!)
Anguish sent the word out all through Arthur’s domain: England, Wales, Scotland, France, Brittany, the whole bit. Of course his daughter, the lovely Isoud, heard about it. She went to Tristram.
“Tramtrist darling,” the lovely Isoud said, “there’s a tournament approaching, winner gets my cousin.”
“I heard,” answered Tristram. “But how does it affect me? Aside from my disinterest in marrying your cousin, I’m just barely out of the sickbed here. Furthermore I’m a young innocent knight who’s been on only a single strange adventure. I wasn’t about to enter it.”
“Shh, Tramtrist,” said the lovely Isoud. “What you don’t know is that you need to win this tournament. Sir Palomides has said that he’s planning to enter. If he wins, do you really think he’ll settle for the hand of my cousin, rather than myself?”
“Hmm, good point,” said Tristram. “Did I mention that while Sir Palomides is an accomplished knight, I nearly got myself killed on the only strange adventure I’ve been on?”
“Still, Tramtrist darling. I know you so well, and I love you so much. I know how your real name is Tramtrist, and how you were injured defending a lady’s honor in Liones, and how you aren’t the nephew of anybody important.”
Tristram felt zero guilt for lying to the alleged love of his life. He was far more concerned about the mechanics of getting into the tournament. “Oh, fine. Fine. Here’s what we do, we don’t tell anyone I’m doing it. We’ll keep it a secret, that I’m doing it, and especially that you’re colluding with me.”
“I’m colluding with you?”
“I’ll need a horse and armor.”
“Oh! I can get you those.” The lovely Isoud blinked. “I suppose that counts as collusion.”
Then the jousting tournament began. Simply everyone was there. Sir Palomides, but also Sir Gawaine, Gawaine’s brothers Sir Gaheris and Sir Agravaine, Sir Bagdemagus, Sir Kay, Sir Dodinas, Sir Sagramour the Lusty, Sir Gumret the Short, and Sir Griftlet, plus way more, I’m just listing the ones Palomides defeated on the first day of the tournament.
At the end of that first day, Anguish noticed that his favorite knight/minstrel, Sir Tramtrist, hadn’t been participating. He headed over to Tristram to ask what was up. What was actually up was that Tristram was waiting for the lovely Isoud to procure him a horse and armor, but Tristram couldn’t say that. Instead he fell back on the ol’ nearly-got-killed excuse, and started on about how he was still convalescing.
During this conversation, who should have wandered up but Famous Hebes! You’ve already forgotten him, haven’t you? He’d delivered a puppy bouquet to Tristram. When Famous Hebes spotted Tristram, and heard Anguish calling him ‘Tramtrist’ he was all set to correct the king. He would put this whole case of mistaken identity to rights! Oh no!
But it was okay! Tristram saw Hebes opening his mouth and clearing his throat. But then Tristram coughed and made a cutting-the-throat motion. Hebes clammed up until Anguish had left.
Afterwards, Hebes wanted to know what was up.
“They think my name is Sir Tramtrist here,” Tristram said. “Just play along.”
“You don’t want to know why?”
“Nah, I think I’m better off not knowing.”
“Well, why are you here?”
“Sir Gawaine is around here somewhere. He promised to make me a knight, and then ran off. I’ve been tracking him down. Don’t you think I’ll make a good knight?”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever. I don’t care. Tell you what. Meet me tomorrow morning, I’ll knight you myself. I got to do a thing first, is all.”
As Hebes left, he almost walked into the lovely Isoud in the hallway. She pushed past him, into Tristram’s room. “My darling Tramtrist, I heard you promising to knight that courier,” she said. “You’re some kind of prince, aren’t you?” At this point she cast more love unto him than she had done to-fore, which, interpret that how you will, but we’re fading to black.
The next morning, Sir Palomides defeated still more noble knights — remember Mister 100? Remember King Anguish of Scotland, wait a minute, Malory is checking his notes, uh, he means the otherwise unnamed King of the Scots, of course. At last, Sir Tristram took the field, bedecked in all white, complete with a white horse courtesy the lovely Isoud.
Palomides had been rocking a black shield and tabard this whole tournament, so the following joust was conveniently color-coded. Tristram and Palomides fought, but it was a hugely anticlimactic letdown that even Malory doesn’t get excited about. Tristram won with a lot of flashy tricks, humiliating Palomides. Gawaine and the other Knights of the Round Table congratulated the young knight. The lovely Isoud swooned. Afterwards Tristram knighted Famous Hebes. No one else wanted to fight Tristram after watching him defeat Palomides, so he was declared the champion of the tournament.
Tristram turned out to be a sore winner! He’d defeated Palomides, everyone had cheered and declared him the victor already, and he’d knighted Famous Hebes in celebration. Afterwards Palomides tried to leave the tournament quietly, and Tristram wouldn’t have that. He ran Palomides down, demanding they finish the fight that Tristram had already won.
Palomides tried to defend himself, but Tristram knocked him down again, and demanded Palomides yield, which he did.
“Okay, great! I have some demands!” Tristram told him. “Really just the one. Demand number one: you quit macking on the lovely Isoud, you hear? Leave her alone from now on!”
“This is ridiculously embarrassing.”
“Shut up! Shut up and swear! Or here thou shalt die!” said Tristram. Jerk move, Tristram.
“Fine, I so swear.” Then Palomides pulled off his armor and threw away his harnesses and stomped off, presumably to take up a life that didn’t involve all this knightly jousting and junk. Don’t worry, folks, he’ll be back.
On the way back to the tournament grounds, Tristram met, oh, let’s call her Orlene. Orlene had accompanied Sir Launcelot on an adventure that Malory skipped over, his defeat of Sir Carados at Dolorous Garde. This is Orlene’s backstory, Malory says. Now we rejoin Tristram as “Tramtrist,” already in progress.
“Excuse me! Sir? Sir?” Orlene flagged Tristram down on his way back from humiliating Palomides. “Are you Sir Launcelot?”
“No, no, folks call me Tramtrist. I’m the knight who just now defeated Sir Palomides. Yesterday he beat up like ten Knights of the Round Table, including Sir Kay and Sir Griftlet.”
“Are you sure you’re not Sir Launcelot?” she asked. Orlene wasn’t convinced. “You sure sound like Launcelot. ‘I just beat a knight who beat ten knights’ is the kind of thing he says.”
“I promise I’m not Sir Launcelot,” Tristram said. “I swear to God! Although I pray to God to make me as badass a knight as Sir Launcelot.”
“Hmm,” said Orlene. “Would you mind lifting your face-concealing visor that you’ve been wearing, so I can see with my eyes that you aren’t Launcelot?”
“Fine,” says Tristram, and did so.
“Whoa!” cried Orlene. “Okay, I’m convinced you aren’t Launcelot. You’re way, way, way better-looking than he is.”
At this point I assume Tristram was wondering how he could string Orlene and the lovely Isoud both, I expect, but Orlene didn’t stick around. Once she knew Tristram wasn’t Launcelot, she left and never came back, which means this encounter was wholly pointless. Which is just typical, really.
Tristram returned to Anguish’s court, where the lovely Isoud greeted him. “Oh, thanks to God for bringing my Tramtrist back to me!” she cried.
Anguish and Queen Isoud both marveled at Tramtrist’s Palomides-defeating prowess. For a long time Tristram was an honored guest in Anguish’s court (Malory is vague as to dates, as usual). Eventually one day the lovely Isoud and her mother decided to give Tristram a bath.
Not like that, not like that. They drew up a nice hot bath for Tristram and sent him off to it. While he scrubbed and soaked, mother and daughter poked around “Tramtrist’s” chambers, which were also the chambers of Sir Famous Hebes (who had become “Tramtrist’s” squire) and “Tramtrist’s” manservant Gouvernail. The chambers needed a good cleaning.
“Ooh, look at this darling sword,” cried the lovely Isoud, holding up a nice sword in an inlaid scabbard.
“Very nice,” said the queen. “I wonder why he never uses that one?”
“Maybe it’s dirty,” the lovely Isoud guessed. “We could have it cleaned for him. That would be a nice surprise!”
The queen drew the sword out of its scabbard and couldn’t help but notice it’d been broken off partway along the blade, with a break that precisely matched the vengeance-token she’d been carrying around for most of this story.
“Good heavens,” she said. “My oh my, Stephen Fry. Daughter, lovely Isoud, darling. This man Tramtrist slew my brother your uncle Marhaus. This is the sword he used — you see? I have the missing fragment of the blade, taken from my brother’s body.”
“Ew,” said the lovely Isoud. “Also, dang it. I love Tramtrist. Yet I accept your conclusions! He’s gone and murdered Uncle Marhaus. You’re going to commit horrible vengeance upon him, aren’t you?”
“Oh my yes.” Queen Isoud’s first plan was to take the broken sword and slice Tristram up with it immediately, catching him unawares in the bath. But Famous Hebes put the kibosh on this plan, by noticing her sneaking into the bathroom with a sword, and sounding an alarm. Her second plan — and Malory reminds us that this is all happening of her evil will, like she’s totally unjustified? Her second plan was to go to Anguish, kneel before him, and demand that he kill Tramtrist for her.
“A boy like that — go find another! A boy like that — he killed my brother!” she cried.
“Whoa,” said Anguish. “You’re saying Sir Tramtrist, the nice young man our daughter is so sweet on, you’re saying he killed your brother Marhaus?”
“That is exactly what I am saying, yes. Are you going to go kill him?”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Anguish, all dejected. He liked “Tramtrist.” So he went to Tristram, looking for him first in the bath, then in his bedroom, and finally finding him out in the stables, where he was suited up and packing to leave. Famous Hebes had told him about Queen Isoud’s attack, so he knew the jig was up.
“Crap,” said Tristram when he saw Anguish. “Well, I suppose we’re jousting now.” He mounted up and drew his weapon, and waited for Anguish to do likewise.
Anguish drew his sword, then sheathed it again with a sigh. “No point. You’ve got, what, maybe thirty years on me? Besides, my guards would cut you down eventually. But listen here, I always liked you, Tramtrist, and my daughter too. Listen, I’ll let you leave my land in peace, if you tell me who you really are. Did you really kill my brother-in-law Marhaus?”
“Sir, I am Sir Tristram of Liones, son of King Meliodas and Queen Elizabeth, whose brother is King Mark of Cornwall. I was born in the forest, where my mother died in childbirth, and named Tristram for my sorrowful birth…”
“I didn’t ask for your whole life story.”
“Your loss. Anyway, long story short, I’ve been calling myself Tramtrist because I didn’t want you to know who I was. It’s a clever pseudonym you’d never have guessed ever, am I right? But yeah, as a favor for my uncle King Mark I fought Sir Marhaus. It was my very first strange adventure.”
“Well, under the circumstances I can understand,” said Anguish. “I sent Marhaus to Cornwall to fight Mark or Mark’s champion, after all. Business, not personal. But if I let you stick around here, my wife will kill me. I mean, literally, she will have one of her many cousins kill me and seize my throne.”
“I’ll just be going then,” said Tristram. “No hard feelings?”
“No hard feelings.”
“Cool. If we ever meet up again, in England maybe, I’ll look on you as a friend, and do you service. In the meantime, I will do great deeds in honor of milady, your daughter, the lovely Isoud.”
Tristram and the lovely Isoud then shared a touching goodbye scene, wherein Tristram finally came clean about Sir Tramtrist being an invention. The lovely Isoud sobbed and Tristram cried a single manly tear, mourning all the sex he wasn’t going to have. He thanked her one more time for saving her life. She promised not to marry anyone else for seven years, unless Tristram gave her permission, which was either more weird sexism or kinky power exchange stuff. I’m guessing the former. They exchanged promise rings, and Tristram left for Cornwall. Confessing his web of lies to his girlfriend: some surprisingly non-jerk behavior coming from Sir Tristram! Could he keep it up?
The answer is no. Before he left for Cornwall, he did a victory lap around Anguish’s court and all the barons and Queen Isoud and her cousins. There, he announced that he was Sir Tristram, badass knight from Liones, in Cornwall.
“I killed Sir Marhaus! And now I’m going into wholly voluntary exile from Ireland! Unless someone would rather joust me right here, right now, and avenge Marhaus. Anyone? Anyone?”
“I didn’t think so!” He spit on the ground, glared at some knights that were of the queen’s blood, and Marhaus’s blood, but they would not meddle with him.
“Bock bock bock,” Tristram said, and did a little chicken dance that looks nothing like an actual chicken. “Bock bock bock!”
But eventually he grew bored with this and left.