The Tale of Palomides Feeling Sorry for Himself opens with Bleoberis and Ector leaving Joyous Gard at the end of that week-long party. They traveled to a seaside resort castle, where Guenever had been staying. Through the grace of God the queen was recovered of her malady, Malory tells us. Whew! That’s a relief. It might have been more suspenseful if Malory had remembered to mention that Guenever was ill, but whatever. I’m just glad she’s okay.
Guenever asked after Tristram and Isoud. Bleoberis and Ector assured her they were doing well, and Guenever complained about this darn malady that she’d just gotten over which was why she had been obliged to sit out the last several stories.
Since she’d missed the LONAZEP tournament, Guenever requested a moment-by-moment recap of the whole thing, which Bleoberis and Ector agreeably laid for her, in excruciating detail. Blah blah blah Launcelot, blah blah Tristram, blah blah Palomides.
“Palomides was doing well, and then he choked on the last day,” said Bleoberis. “He turned against the party that came in withal, and that caused him to lose a great part of his worship, for it seemed that Sir Palomides is passing envious.”
“Too bad for him,” mused Guenever. “Once you start being envious, it’s all downhill. A reputation as a heel is very difficult to shake, on the jousting circuit. All men of worship hate an envious man.”
Palomides rode off after the tournament, grimly clutching his third-place ribbons and his condolence prizes (a horse from the King of Ireland and unspecified great gifts from the King of Scotland). After a morning of hard travel he stopped for lunch at a forest well, where he met Sir Epinogris, one of the minor Knights of the Round Table.
Normally Palomides would have just ignored Epinogris, but he saw the guy was wounded and sobbing; he couldn’t help but stop.
“Dude,” Palomides said. “Do I know you? What’s up? Why wail ye so? Let me lie down and wail with you, because my problems have got to be at least ten times as bad as yours. You big baby!”
“Who are you, again?” asked Epinogris.
“Sir Palomides,” said Palomides. “I don’t think we’ve ever been introduced. I’m the heir of King Astlabor, whose other two sons are my brothers Sir Safere and Sir Segwarides. I’m the Muslim knight you might have heard about?”
Epinogris shrugged. “I’m not impressed your dad is a king. My dad is the King of Northumberland. Have a seat, and I’ll answer your question about what’s bugging me.”
“What’s bugging me is definitely a much better story,” said Palomides. He sat down. “For starters, I’m in love with Queen ‘the lovely’ Isoud. She’s married to King Mark of Cornwall…”
“Ha! You sap!” Epinogris snorted derisively in Palomides’s direction. “Even I know that Sir Tristram is the lovely Isoud’s paramour. How you gonna compete with Tristram? Give it up.”
“No man knoweth that matter better than I do.” Palomides sighed. “Tristram and I are friends, or were friends. Isoud keeps coming between us. Now have I lost the fellowship of Sir Tristram for ever, and the love of the lovely Isoud for ever, and I am never like to see her more, and Sir Tristram and I be either to other mortal enemies. Poor, poor me.”
“You say you’re really into Isoud.” Epinogris got a thoughtful look. “Has she ever done anything, anything at all, to suggest that she might be into you?”
“Well, no,” admitted Palomides. “In fact last time I saw her she rebuked me for not letting it go. Poor, poor me. I have many times enforced myself to do many deeds for the lovely Isoud’s sake, and she was the cause of my worship-winning. How can it be that I can declare that I’m into her and her not reciprocate? It’s almost as if women were not prizes to be won! But now I’m just getting crazy.” He sighed again. “Anyway, that’s my sorrow. Poor, poor me, am I right?”
Epinogris made a face. “Okay, well, compared to my sorrow, your sorrow is japes. Your sorrow is laughter and prancing around and putting buckets of water on ajar doors and cans of peanut brittle that actually have snakes in them, and all that kind of stuff,” says Epinogris. “Get this: I used to have a girlfriend and now I don’t!”
Palomides gasped in sympathetic shock.
See, until recently, Sir Epinogris had been dating Ophelia, some earl’s daughter. At the LONAZEP tournament Epinogris had killed her father and one of his henchmen, in a legit jousting situation, so there’d been nobody to stop him from totally sexing Ophelia up. But then another knight came along and jousted him for her! This other knight, Sir “Valiant” Helior, smacked him around (hence Epinogris’s wounds) and then rode off with Ophelia. Rescuing her from her abductor, one might almost say.
“So you can see how my pain is worse than yours. I won Ophelia, she was an object I won. I killed her dad. That makes her my property. I had her, and then stupid Valiant Helior stole her from me. Owning a girl and then losing her is way worse than never owning her in the first place.”
“True that,” said Palomides. “Heck, I’m not wounded. Let’s you and me go steal her back!”
Epinogris was absolutely down with this. He and Palomides mounted up and rode in the direction Valiant Helior went, soon arriving at a major rest-stop hermitage. A dozen knights lounged in the shade, resting from their travels and swapping LONAZEP tournament stories. Palomides spotted a guy he thought was Launcelot’s brother Sir Ector, and avoids him. It’s actually Palomides’s brother Sir Safere, who’d borrowed Ector’s shield.
While Epinogris rested (he was wounded, remember) Palomides hunted around. In the back of the hermitage, he found Valiant Helior in the company of Ophelia.
“I’ve come to steal your property!” cried Palomides, or words to that effect. He made to joust Valiant Helior, but Safere cut in front of him and jousted Helior instead. Safere’s motivation for doing so was not clear.
While Safere defeated Helior in the background, Palomides made his way over to Ophelia.
“Excuse me,” he said. “You know a knight named Epinogris?”
“Epinogris!” she cried. “He murdered my father! And we used to date! I wish I’d never known him! And now he’s dead!” She started to weep.
“Whoa, whoa, calm down,” Palomides said. “He’s not dead. Who told you he was dead? He’s over there, resting. C’mon, I’ll walk you over to him.”
Ophelia was shocked to learn Epinogris hadn’t already died of his wounds. So shocked that she completely forgot that he killed her dad and that she hated him! She was eager to see Epinogris, in fact. She and Palomides started over towards the far end of the hermitage, where Epinogris lay, but Safere stopped them.
Safere had just defeated Sir Helior in combat (Helior threw down his weapon and unlaced his armor and pleaded for his life in a way that totally undermined his “Valiant” nickname) and afterwards he wanted Ophelia for himself.
“I don’t want any trouble, Ector,” said Palomides.
“Ector? Who’s Ector?” Safere had just picked up Ector’s shield off the tournament ground, like it was a lost umbrella. “What’re you trying to pull, calling me Ector?”
“Well, who are you?”
Of course when Safere and Palomides identify one another as brothers, they laughed and wept and kissed and wailed so loudly that it woke up Sir Epinogris, who grabbed his sword and limped over to them, in case Palomides was losing a joust and needed to be rescued.
Ultimately Safere and Palomides and Epinogris and Ophelia all went together back to Epinogris’s castle and had a party.
The next morning Safere and Palomides rode out from Epinogris’s castle together. Before they’d gone very far they pass another castle, one all done up for mourning (Malory doesn’t explain what this looks like, so I’m imagining black velvet coverlets all over the walls and towers).
Palomides and Safere were intrigued! They wandered into the castle, where they met a whole troop of guys weeping and wailing.
“You guys sure seem to be mourning something,” said Palomides. “What’s up with that?”
One of the mourners looked up and got the same look as Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
“It’s him!” he cried. “The one who slew our lord during the LONAZEP tournament!”
“Who slew who in the what now?” asked Palomides, but by then the mourners had drawn swords and were on him.
Palomides and Safere resisted! They stood, back to back, for hours, hacking away. But they were outnumbered thirty to one, and eventually the knights and yeomen of the castle overwhelmed them. Malory didn’t waste any time explaining that twelve of the knights formed a jury and found Palomides guilty of killing their lord during the tournament. Safere they let go, since he wasn’t involved.
Safere cried and whined and wailed and gave this long diatribe about how unfair this was, which according to Malory goes on for hours. You could hear, like, ten percent of Safere’s complaint, and it would bore you and also him, he says. Malory suggests we all just skip it. And hell, Malory knows from boring, so I’ll take his word for it.
After Safere shut up, and Sir Palomides was convicted, the knights who held him captive transported him to Castle Pelownes, the castle of the son of the lord he slew. They made a big deal of it, riding in parade formation, with Palomides strung across the back of a horse and the lord’s son in front. At one point they rode right past Joyous Gard, where Tristram and the lovely Isoud live. One of Tristram’s associate knights was hanging around outside.
“Tell Tristram!” Palomides shouted at him. “Tell Isoud! Tell Arthur! Tell anyone!”
This associate knight told Tristram all about it, and Tristram scowled. “Stupid Palomides. I hate that guy, he’s my worst friend. I can’t let him die in some dungeon, though. I’ll have to go rescue him.”
He dawdled, though, and by the time he arrived at Castle Pelownes to rescue Palomides, Launcelot had already done it.
In a bit of staggeringly bad luck for Palomides’s captors, they stopped for water at a forest well at the same time as Launcelot stopped for water at the same well. Naturally Launcelot defeated all twelve of them in a couple of minutes. He was just untying Palomides when when Tristram appeared.
“Unhand my frenemy, stranger!” shouted Tristram.
But we don’t get another Launcelot-Tristram bout, because Palomides intervened and explains that Launcelot had just rescued him. Launcelot was doing his usual Sir Guy Incognito thing, and didn’t ID himself as Launcelot.
When Launcelot does that it makes some sense, because I imagine if Launcelot were to walk around as Launcelot, he’d be fending off challenges left and right.
Anyway, Tristram (also anonymous, for much the same reason) gave Launcelot the stinkeye. But they were both wearing heavy face-concealing helmets, though, so nothing came of that. Tristram and Launcelot agreed to go their separate ways. Tristram took Palomides back to Joyous Gard to recuperate, and Launcelot rode on to his destination, which was also Joyous Gard, to visit. Tristram and Launcelot each thought the other was following them, but finally they all came to Joyous Gard and had a big laugh over it. Except that Palomides was still into Isoud, and she was still definitively not into him, and the oftener that Sir Palomides saw the lovely Isoud the heavier he waxed day by day.
We play a sad violin song for Sir Palomides, as he wandered around in the forest near Joyous Gard. He ate little, he spoke softly or not at all; he had some depression going, you guys. All men had marvel wherefore he faded so away.
One day he came across a forest well, as you do, and he spent a long time staring down into it, maybe thinking about jumping in. He saw his reflection. “Ah, Palomides, Palomides,” he said to himself. “Why art thou so defaded, thou that was wont to be called one of the fairest knights of the world? I will no more lead this life, for I love that I may never get.“
And then he lay down by the well and started to compose sad songs about how tragic his life was.
What a sorry guy!
He has no friends
He has no lover
He’ll die, by and by.
Which, okay, not a good rhyme scheme but you get the idea. A lot of his songs were about the lovely Isoud, and how she was too cruel and stupid to realize how much he loved her.
Meanwhile Sir Tristram went out hunting the hart of greese, which sounds delicious. Sir Tristram hunted all decked out in full jousting armor and arms, because the lovely Isoud wouldn’t let him leave the house any other way any more, not after that episode with Pitiless Bruce a few stories back. He creeped along, seeking out that greesey hart, when he heard somebody singing about his lady-love! He sneaked up and spotted Palomides, lounging by the well and singing.
You’re so lovely
Why don’t you love me?
Is it because I’m Muslim?
Or is it because you’re too dumb?
Understandably, this pissed Tristram off mightily! He almost leaped out of the forest, intent on decapitating Palomides in a single mighty blow, but for once his conscience wouldn’t let him. I’m strongly tempted to call shenanigans, because this is a guy who has killed many people and attacked without provocation even more: Sir Nabon and Sir Nabon Junior and the Fair Knight and Lamorak and Sir Breunor and Sir Breunor’s concubine and Isoud’s mother’s family and plenty of others.
But he remembered that Sir Palomides was unarmed, and of the noble name that Sir Palomides had, and the noble name that he himself had, and then he made restraint of his anger, says Malory. I guess if Palomides hadn’t been a well-regarded knight, Tristram would have murdered him without a second thought.
Instead Tristram emerged from his hiding place and confronted Palomides. “I’ve heard your song,” he said. “I always knew it! I always knew you were after my girlfriend who is married to my uncle! That time you eloped with her should have been a tipoff, in retrospect. Or that time you entered a tournament to win her hand, back in Ireland. The point is, no fair creeping on my girlfriend! I mean, what am I supposed to do in response to that? I can’t just let it go!”
Palomides scuffed the ground with his shoe, all guilty-like. He mumbled something about how he’d been hoping to die in battle for Isoud’s honor, the way Sir Kehydius did at some point offscreen during Book IX.
Tristram didn’t want to hear it. “Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for her! Except for the part where I conquered part of France and married Isoud the White. Or the part where I turned her over to my uncle to marry! But we don’t talk about that! That isn’t what’s important! What’s important is that she’s my lady-love! She’s not your lady-love! Quit it!”
Palomides had endured just about enough of Tristram’s abuse. He pointed out that love was free, man, and he could love whoever, man, and everyone was free, dude.
“Shut up and joust!” cried Tristram.
Tristram and Palomides agreed to joust to the death! But not immediately. Tristram would have liked to joust Palomides immediately, or the next morning at the latest, but Palomides insisted he needed some time to train up, to put his affairs in order, get some armor on, et cetera. They agreed to meet fifteen days later, in the front yard of Joyous Gard.
“I remember one time we agreed to fight, and you didn’t show,” Tristram said.
“I was in prison! I warned you I wouldn’t be able to make it if I was imprisoned.”
“If you’re a no-show this time, I don’t know what I’ll do. But it won’t be pretty.”
Ironically, during this fifteen-day period it was Tristram who suffered an accident. It was a small hunting accident, which resulted in an arrow wound and a dead horse, but Tristram carried on about how badly he was hurt and he couldn’t ride and even if he could his horse was dead. So when Palomides showed up to fight him, Tristram was lying in his bed, complaining, sending messengers downstairs about how much pain he was in and it wasn’t fair for Palomides to expect him to joust. Palomides sent up his squire to fetch Tristram, and Tristram showed him the arrow wound, claiming it was six inches deep.
So Palomides declared himself the winner by default, and went off to have all kinds of awesome strange adventures without Tristram. Tristram recovered from his wound, and traveled alone to have even better strange adventures to spite Palomides. The two of them ranged all over Christendom, strange adventuring it up.
It got to a point where everyone was talking about them, and their feud, and their incredible adventures, and no one was talking about Launcelot! Which annoyed all of Launcelot’s friends and boosters, but Launcelot himself didn’t give two hoots about it. Launcelot had never been into it for the fame; Launcelot was all about the strange adventure.