The tale opens with Dinadan and Palomides right where we left them at the end of the last tale. Neither of the two recognized the other, even though they’d spent a big chunk of Book IX in prison together. They conversed, but mainly it was a recap in which each informed the other of stuff that by all rights they should have already known.
Sir Dinadan knew Sir Tristram! Hey, what a coincidence, Sir Palomides also knew Sir Tristram! Dinadan thought Tristram was a jerk but also a solid fighter. Palomides had no cause to disagree! Palomides was on his way to Merlin’s stony grave (not the magic rock that has imprisoned Merlin ever since Book IV, but rather the memorial Merlin raised in Book II and which Tristram had been inexplicably calling a porch). He had an appointment with Tristram to joust there, and he was late. But he had a good excuse: he’d been in prison! Tristram should totes understand that.
Sir Dinadan told Palomides about the Launcelot-Tristram title bout that went on in the previous story, how it ended in a draw, and how Tristram had joined the Round Table.
“Wow,” said Palomides. “Shame I missed that. Also, I’m shocked to hear Tristram didn’t easily defeat Launcelot. Launcelot is kind of a wimp compared to Tristram.”
Dinadan gave Palomides a long look. “Have you ever met Sir Launcelot?”
“…No,” admitted Palomides. “Except this one time when he defeated me and Tristram together, when we woke him up from a nap, in a story that Malory neglected to include.”
“Well, take my word for it, you don’t want to fight either of them. They’re in a special class, those two. Now let me tell you about the next plot point, which is another jousting tournament, because that’s all Le Morte D’Arthur is, is jousting tournaments thinly connected by narrative.”
“Yeah. Queen Guenever and the lovely Isoud are going to be jointly presiding over this one.”
“Oh, I’m still sweet on the lovely Isoud,” exclaimed Palomides. “So I’ll enter the tournament and hopefully see her.”
“Cool! Let’s team up,” said Dinadan. “Who are you, again?”
“I’m Sir Palomides, the Muslim knight. Brother of Sir Safere and of Sir Segwarides.” This is the first time the relationship between Palomides, Safere, and Segwarides is mentioned in Le Morte D’Arthur, literally hundreds of pages after all the plot involving Tristram, Palomides, Segwarides, and Segwarides’s wife back in Book VIII.
Dinadan and Palomides walked together, reminiscing about all their shared adventures and stopping to introduce themselves to one another every few hundred yards. Eventually they came to a castle, one Dinadan recognized. “Check it out, Palomides,” he says. “Yonder lies the castle of Morgan le Fay.”
While we’re recapping: Morgan was the queen of the land of Gore. Gore had been ruled by her estranged husband King Uriens, but then Morgan decided to rebel against Arthur on account of he got to be king of everything and she didn’t, even though she was his older half-sister and also a necromancer. She kicked Uriens out of Gore (along with their son Sir Uwaine). Thus probably this castle was at the edge of Gore maybe? Dinadan claimed that Arthur gave it to her in happier times. Since her rebellion began he’d tried several times to capture this Gorean castle by siege, but failed each time.
“Check this out also,” continued Dinadan. “Morgan has this whole scheme going, whereby any knight from Camelot who passes through here must joust with the knights of her castle, one after the other, until inevitably he loses. When he loses, she confiscates his horse and armor and stuff, and takes him prisoner.” How Dinadan happened to be aware of this is not addressed.
“So God me help this is a shameful custom, and a villainous usance for a queen to use.” Palomides shook his head sadly. “She knows that King Arthur is the Flower of Chivalry, doesn’t she? As a practicing Muslim (a religion, once again, which Malory knows nothing about other than the fact that it exists) I aver with certainty that this is the worst crime committed by any queen, Christian or heathen. I’m going to go down there and if I’m obliged to joust for her, then her knights will find both their hands full.” (That really is a very old idiom.)
“Sounds good to me,” said Dinadan. “Let’s team up on this one!”
They prepared to ride down at the castle and joust, but before they set out, a mysterious knight approached! He wore a face-concealing helmet and Malory calls him the Knight with the Red Shield, because he had a red shield.
“Ho, good knights,” said the mysterious Knight with the Red Shield. “You look like you’re about to attempt to succeed where the assembled knights of Camelot failed, and exhaust the defenders of yonder castle.”
“What of it?”
“I am on a mission to defeat the castle myself! It’s as a favor to Sir Lamorak, who definitely isn’t actually secretly me.”
“So would you mind letting me have a go, first? If I lose, you can avenge me!”
“Yeah, okay,” said Palomides.
So the mysterious Knight with the Red Shield… you know what? I’m just going to say it’s Sir Lamorak. Try to look surprised later on. Lamorak jousted one of Morgan’s Gorean knights, and then he jousted another Gorean knight, and then he jousted a third Gorean knight. At this point Palomides offered to tag in, in case Lamorak wanted to take a break, but Lamorak refused, and he jousted a fourth Gorean.
“Man he’s good,” said Palomides.
“He’s Launcelot good. Heck, he’s Tristram good,” agreed Dinadan.
Lamorak defeated Goreans numbers five and six! It’s like that scene in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where Worf was in a Dominion prison and he fought all those guys in a row? It happened once. Never mind.
Palomides really wanted in, at this point. Sir Lamorak partially acquiesced; he let the next bout be a two on two match. Of course Morgan’s unnamed Gorean knights fell before Sir Palomides and Sir Lamorak, though Palomides was dehorsed. A guy also attacked Dinadan, even though Dinadan had been hanging a respectful distance back.
Lamorak jousted another seven knights after that, bringing his total count to thirteen or fifteen, depending on whether you count the two he took on with Palomides. Malory can’t count, though, and puts the number at twelve. Malory also claims four of them would die of their injuries.
Afterwards the surviving knights promised not to participate in the evil customs of the castle any longer. An unarmed representative emerged from the castle to tell Lamorak that they wouldn’t be fighting him any more today. Castle was closed, come back tomorrow.
“Hah! I win!” cried Lamorak, and rode off.
“That guy really made me look bad,” grumbled Palomides. “I’m going to go catch him and get him to agree to a nonlethal honor joust.”
“That sounds like a bad plan,” said Dinadan.
“Don’t care! Doing it!” cried Palomides. He soon caught up to Lamorak. “Dude!” he shouted. “The way you let me help you out and fight two of Morgan’s knights and then they dehorsed me and you beat them both? That was extremely embarrassing for me! I expect you to make it right! By which I mean an honor joust!”
“What? No!” If Palomides was going to be huffy, Lamorak would be huffy right back! “I mean, that’s not my fault. Blame Morgan or her Gorean knights for that. But also, I just beat like twelve to fifteen knights. I am travailed sore and not up for further jousting today.”
“I don’t care,” said Palomides. “Joust me joust me joust me!”
“Jesus C. Penney, fine. Fine.” Lamorak sighed heavily and turned around in his saddle and laboriously pulled out his jousting lance.
“Nay, I will not joust,” said Palomides. “Changed my mind.”
“Make up your damn mind!”
“You’re clearly a great jouster, since you defeated twelve to fifteen knights just now! You’ll cream me! I’m not going to set myself up for a loss like that!”
“It would beseem a knight to joust,” growled Lamorak.
“Let’s fight on foot! You weren’t on foot before. This will be more fair.”
So Palomides and Lamorak sword-fought, on foot, for the mountenance of an hour, so, like forty-five minutes? Lamorak wounded Palomides, but Palomides blamed the original dehorsing he got at the hands of Morgan’s knights that started him off on this path.
“What say we call it a draw?” asked Palomides, as he huffed and puffed and eyed Lamorak’s sword stained with Palomides’s blood.
“Whatever,” said Lamorak. “Jerk.”
“I never got your name, either,” said Palomides. “I require of thy knighthood tell me thy name.”
“Screw you, that’s my name,” said Lamorak. “What’s yours? Is it Mister Jackass?”
“Oh, you didn’t recognize me? I’m a little famous. A rising star. I assumed you’d heard of me.” Palomides really wasn’t coming off very well in this conversation. “I’m Sir Palomides.”
“Oh, all right. I’m Sir Lamorak de Galis, son of King Pellinore and half-brother of Sir Tor.”
“Crap, you’re a guy who appears in multiple scenes? I’m sorry!” Palomides immediately dropped to his knees and begs forgiveness. “I wouldn’t have been such a jerk except that I thought you were an incidental character like Sir Miles or Sir Hontzlake!”
“Apology accepted,” said Lamorak, because he was legit the better man here.
“Let’s be blood brothers!”
“Um, sure. Except my brother Sir Tor, you know… I already have a brother. I have several, actually.”
“I have a couple of brothers too, no big.”
So they hugged. Then Sir Dinadan caught up. The three of them found a nearby convent and slept there overnight.
(Malory tosses in a quick King Mark interlude here, in which the big cadre of knights in the last story returned to Camelot with Dagonet the jester, and told everybody the funny story about how King Mark was humiliated. Arthur and everybody had a good laugh at Mark’s expense, even more so when they called Mark in and had him confirm all the most humiliating parts.)
In the morning, they rode together for a little while, but Palomides and Lamorak were both wounded, so the pair of them decided to tuck in at Sir Galahalt‘s castle.
“Sticking around, Dinadan?” asked Lamorak.
“Nah,” said Dinadan. “I’m sort of Tristram’s designated sidekick. I probably ought to head to Camelot, now that he’s there, and check in.”
Palomides did a spit-take! “Ah, Dinadan, now do I understand that you love my mortal enemy, and therefore how should I trust you?” he asked. “I mean, what?”
“What yourself!” retorted Dinadan. “Don’t you remember when the three of us were in prison and Tristram had a depressive episode and we both helped him through it? I’ve been Tristram’s sidekick for quite a while now. Don’t pretend this is news to you.”
“Tristram’s not a bad guy,” asserted Lamorak.
Palomides and Dinadan both looked skeptical.
“Well, okay, but even so, he’s not a villain.” Lamorak chewed his lip. “Well, okay, he’s not a supervillain. I think we can all agree on that. Not a supervillain.”
After a little side trek wherein Dinadan met a random knight who claimed he wants to have a friendly joust to the death, and Dinadan explained the problems with that, he arrived at Camelot. There he told Tristram and Arthur all about his recent adventures, leaving out only the parts about King Mark, because he promised not to tell them about Mark.
“Amazing,” said Arthur. “The knight with the red shield defeated that many knights?”
“Lamorak, yeah. And then dueled Palomides to a standstill, too,” said Dinadan.
“Palomides, you say.” Arthur let out a low whistle. “I’d like to meet this one. Make it so!”
Arthur set a trap for Sir Lamorak: he organized a jousting tournament! It was just a quick little one, with Sir Gawaine and his brothers Gaheris, Agravaine, Gareth, and Mordred. Sir Launcelot decided to sit this one out, so as not to embarrass Gawaine; Tristram and Dinadan followed his lead. (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 24!)
So naturally Gawaine won the tournament. Sir Ector the lesser was also there. As it wraps up, in came a knight and two squires… with a shield covered with leather.
“Who is that dashing stranger?” cried Arthur, as the mystery knight (spoiler you guys it’s Lamorak) lay into two nonspecific Knights of the Round Table, showing off. He defeated them, but in the tussle his leather shield-cozy was pulled off, and then was the king and all other ware that he bare a red shield.
“It’s that red shield guy!” shouted Arthur. He waved Gawaine and his brothers in to joust with the dude. Lamorak took out Gaheris! He took out Agravaine! He took out Gareth! And that’s all of them, because Malory has forgotten that he’d just said Mordred attended too!
“So God me help,” mused Arthur, “that guy is one hell of a jouster.” Arthur watched as Lamorak dehorses Gawaine.
“Man! He just dehorsed Gawaine, everybody!” shouted Arthur. “Who is that guy? I’m tearing my hair out, over here!”
“Oh, sire, I know,” piped up Sir Dinadan. “Sorry. I thought I said. Weren’t we just talking about him and his red shield last chapter? That’s Sir…” He trailed off, as Tristram was frantically elbowing him. “I guess I don’t know his name after all.”
“Well, fortunately for you Arthur, I’m here,” said Tristram. “Unlike this idiot Dinadan, I know that guy’s name! He’s Sir Lamorak. Nice guy. Better at jousting than Sir Palomides.”
Seriously that just happened. Sir Tristam: our hero, shameless goldbricker.
Then at Lamorak’s request Arthur held the whole tournament over again. His theory was that Lamorak’s easy defeat of Sir Gawaine had invalidated the previous tournament’s results. This time Lamorak beat like twenty guys and totally wins everything. (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 25!) Afterwards Arthur, Launcelot, Tristram, and Dinadan all greeted and congratulated Lamorak. When he saw them Lamorak takes off his helmet and waved, but then he spotted Tristram and they ran together and hugged. They hadn’t seen one another since way back in Book IX, after all. So long ago! Tristram was married then, that’s how long ago it was.
I think it bears repeating that Lamorak recognizes Tristram, and vice-versa! After all the face-blindness going on earlier in this book, it’s a minor miracle.
Arthur invited Lamorak back to Camelot, where they put together a big party. Everybody cooed over Lamorak, everybody except for Sir Gawaine and his brothers.
“Guys,” he said. “Gaheris, Gareth, Agravaine, Mordred. Guys. This isn’t good. This is bad. Uncle Arthur really likes this Lamorak dink, even though he totally stole my tournament win before. And sooner or later Lamorak is going to figure out we murdered his father, King Pellinore, for killing our father, King Lot. Also’s he’s into our mother, which is just weird and creepy.”