But in medieval times, one couldn’t be a king and not have a wife, apparently. After seven years, an impossibly long mourning period by the standard of the day, Meliodas reluctantly married a princess from Brittany — the daughter of Howel, which made her King Arthur’s first cousin once removed — and had a load of kids by her, strictly pro forma. We’ll call her Hestia.
Meliodas’s second marriage lacked the romance of his first. Hestia had come to Cornwall purely as a political thing, and she was pretty miserable pretty much of the time. Her husband didn’t love her, she was a long way from her home in Brittany, and her kids were all also-rans compared to Tristram. Everyone doted on Tristram and reminded her that he’d be king after Meliodas died. Everybody was all Tristram this and Tristram that; it was enough to make a Brittany princess crazy, even if she was King Arthur’s first cousin once removed. It’s all very like Rebecca.
So naturally she decided to murder little Tristram. Not a stellar move, but maybe understandable. Her plan: poison in the nursery! She dosed Tristram’s favorite drinking-cup with a lethal amount of something toxic, and sat back to wait for the inevitable.
Tragedy struck when her own son took Tristram’s cup! He drank from it, and died. Nobody except the queen knew that there was any poison around anywhere, and of course it’s the Dark Ages so there was no autopsy. The queen mourned her son! Everyone assumed she was so mopey because she’d just lost a kid, not because she’d just accidentally murdered her own child.
But it’s still Tristram this and Tristram that and how is Tristram dealing with his half-brother’s death and poor little dear never knew his mother and now this, and it just kept gnawing away at the queen, his being alive like that. So she decided to try to poison him again, and this time: no screwups. Hestia wouldn’t put poison in the nursery, because her own kids were in the nursery. She’d put the poison someplace completely unrelated, she figured. Her plan: poison in one of the wine glasses. Because her kids didn’t drink wine!
But you know who did drink wine? Meliodas. He came in and helped himself to some wine. He raised the glass to his lips, and then boom, Hestia suddenly realized the folly of her scheme. She leaped forward, and knocked the glass out of Meliodas’s hand.
“Hestia? What?” Meliodas was stunned and confused by this bizarre behavior. “What’s gotten into you… unless… you witch! Did you poison your own son in a failed attempt to murder Tristram?!”
Meliodas could think fast in a pinch.
Hestia caved. Sinking to her knees, she confessed to everything in a long sob. She just wanted what was best for her children, and Meliodas’s children, excepting Tristram! Surely Meliodas could forgive her?
No, not so much. For murder and attempted murder, Meliodas sentenced her to burning at the stake. This was the standard way to dispose of queens in Le Morte D’Arthur; it comes up again and again. He called in all his barons and knights and servants to watch, so they could see what would happen when someone tried to poison a member of the royal family. It’s the social event of the Liones season; simply everyone was there! Hestia, trussed up like a turkey, wished she wasn’t.
In strolled Young Tristram, aged ten or so. “Father,” he said, in his weird stilted way. “May I have a boon?”
“Oh, sure, why not?” said Meliodas. “But wait a moment; we’re setting fire to Hestia.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Father,” said Tristram. “How about, instead of killing her, we don’t kill her?”
“What? She tried to kill you! Twice!”
“I know, Father, but the greatest virtue is forgiveness. So I forgive her,” said Young Tristram.
“Fine. I said I would give you a boon, so fine. It’s fine. But I’m kicking her out of my kingdom!”
“Oh, no, Father. You must lie with Hestia as a husband and a wife, and love her and be good to her.”
Meliodas scowled and put his head in his hands and grumbles. Young Tristram was all he had to remember Elizabeth by, and therefore he’d do as the boy said and shack up with his Not-Elizabeth second wife. But since every time Meliodas looked at Young Tristram he saw Elizabeth, Meliodas decided to send Young Tristram away to France to be educated. Because he loved him so much. I don’t get it either.
Young Tristram left Liones and Cornwall at this point. He traveled to France, with his tutor Gouvernail. In France he learned how to speak French and how to play the harp. Tristram was the best harpist of his generation, you guys. I guess Sir Launcelot didn’t play the harp? Otherwise Tristram would have been stuck at second-best.
After seven years in France, Tristram returned home to Liones. There he learned how to be a knight. His curriculum had a lot of variety to it, but what he was best at was venery. Venery comprised basically three arts: hunting wild animals with trained dogs, hunting wild animals with trained hawks, and having sex (not with wild animals). Tristram was the best at all of these arts; in fact they became known as the arts of Sir Tristram, an expression Malory is surprised you haven’t already heard. The legend of Sir Tristram should be held in the highest esteem by the nobility, Malory says, since hunting and hawking are the sports of the aristocracy. That’s how you can tell if someone is a gentleman: whether they’re any good at venery.
But Malory has kind of lost the thread of his narrative here. Tristram grew up, returns to Cornwall, and became a knight, not necessarily in that order. The king his father welcomed him back, and the queen his stepmother likewise, because she’d been so grateful for the whole not-lighting-her-on-fire thing that she loved him ever after.