New story, I guess: the story of Elias’s siege of Tintagil. It happened contemporaneous with Launcelot grimly reading Mark’s note and Dinadan coming up with the novelty song idea. Once upon a time (while Launcelot quaked with fury) Tristram left Cornwall for a nondescript jousting tournament (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 26!) Tristram won the tournament, no surprise there. The notable thing is that he was wounded in the last joust of the tournament and traveled to the castle of his buddy Sir Dinas (Mark’s reluctant seneschal, Kay to Mark’s Arthur) to recuperate. As such, he wasn’t in Tintagil when Elias showed up with his army.
Who was Elias? Some guy with an army, says Malory with a shrug. He was from Sessoin, which third-party sources claim was somewhere in France. He thought he should be able to collect tribute from Mark, and naturally Mark was reluctant to go along with that. Mark couldn’t handle Elias alone, so he reluctantly visited Tristram in Dinas’s castle and requested his help. Tristram said he’d love to fight Elias, defend his homeland, look big in front of the lovely Isoud… but he was still wounded from the tournament and would need at least a week to recover. My question is, why didn’t Launcelot and the knights of the Round Table ride in? Mark had pretty clearly accepted Arthur as his overlord; protection from foreign invaders should be one of the things you got out of being King Arthur’s vassal. But no, the folk of Cornwall were on their own.
Mark and his three de facto generals: Sir Dinas, his nephew (and Tristram’s cousin) Sir Andred, and Mark’s own cousin (who isn’t related to Tristram at all) Sir Argius! Together they fought Elias and the Sessoins. Mark mostly hid in Tintagil while others did the fighting, but he was obliged to participate because they needed every hand they could get, even Mark’s own personal bodyguard. These battles didn’t go well for Mark’s side. By the end of the week he was pretty much cornered in Tintagil, praying for relief.
When Tristram finally appeared, he did bring ten unspecified knights of the Round Table, but they were there as a favor to Tristram, not because it was their knightly duty. Tristram his friends sneaked up outside Tintagil, where they ambushed some of Elias’s patrols to get past his big army and into Tintagil itself. Once there, Mark was genuinely glad to see Tristram, Malory says. That’s how much trouble Mark was in! He was in way over his head against this guy Elias.
Somehow Elias learned that Sir Tristram had entered the besieged castle. The next morning he sent an ultimatum to King Mark: come out and fight him, one on one. Naturally Mark saw this as a risky move, and declined. Tristram, Dinas, and Tristram’s Round Table friends led a series of sorties out of the castle. They sabotaged the Sessoins’ supplies, they burned Sessoin boats, they engaged small bits of Elias’s army using hit-and-run tactics. On a couple of these sorties Mark even participated himself, which meant things must have still been pretty dicey.
After a few days, hundreds lay dead on both sides. Elias sent the castle another ultimatum, which was really just an amended version of his previous ultimatum: if Mark would send out a champion to duel Elias, then they could get this whole thing resolved without further loss of life. If Elias won, Mark would pay tribute to Sessoin. If Mark’s champion won, Elias would leave and never return.
“Sounds like a plan,” said Mark, and he talked Tristram into acting, not as his champion, but as the champion of Cornwall. Tristram didn’t wanna; he hadn’t fully recovered from his jousting injuries, plus he’d gotten new injuries in the fighting. He was looking at months of convalescence before he was back up to snuff. However, even injured he was still head and shoulders Tintagil’s best fighter, so he agreed.
Elias and Tristram met on the jousting field. At first Elias smacked Tristram around pretty badly! We’re talking twenty blows to the head, while Tristram landed exactly one on Elias. But then during the timeout, Tristram remembered the lovely Isoud and how he was really fighting for her. Buoyed by the power of love, after the break he came back roaring and smacked Elias around twenty times. Elias died, in an anticlimactic way.
The surviving Sessoins packed up and left, also in an anticlimactic way. Life returned to normal at Tintagil, with Tristram and the lovely Isoud and Mark. Mark arranged a celebratory banquet to commemorate their victory, and brought in the best foreign harper to perform: Eliot!
Eliot the bard played his lay:
King Mark, he sucks, he suck suck suck suck sucks!
He is the guy who sucks, oh yes, he sucks!
That dolt, King Mark, I hate him so so much!
He shouldn’t be loved no nobody loves him nope,
Naturally, Mark was furious. He demanded to know the source of this treason! Eliot explained that he’d learned the song from Sir Dinadan, Launcelot’s friend. Mark wanted to execute Eliot, but Tristram vetoed that, so Mark had to content himself with exiling the bard from Cornwall. The story closes with Mark fretting about his tenuous hold on Cornwall and the importance of murdering Tristram and probably also Launcelot, Dinadan, King Arthur for good measure. Just murder everybody, even his previously unmentioned brother Boudwin. Foreshadowing!