We open with Tristram hot on the trail of the mysterious Fair Knight! He came across a lady weeping over a dead knight, because either Malory forgot he used this exact tableau in the previous story, describing Palomides’s encounter with Pitiless Bruce, or else Malory is a master of narrative parallelism and it’s me who is the real idiot.
The dead knight was a pro-Arthur partisan named Sir Galardoun, his widow explained. Probably his widow had a name but Tristram was in too much of a hurry to learn it! The Fair Knight, the widow said, was an anti-Arthur partisan; he would joust with any pro-Arthur knights at the drop of a hat. She asked Tristram to help her dispose of her husband’s body, but Sir Tristram was too much of a jerk for that! He instead rode hard for a couple of days, staying in much evil lodging. Then he met three pairs of Arthur’s knights, one after the other, in a series of remarkably dull interactions. Let’s watch!
Three days out from Sir Palomides, Tristram found Sir Bleoberis and Sir Gawaine chilling in a forest lodge. They’d both been badly wounded by this mysterious Fair Knight.
“That jerk!” cried Gawaine, when Tristram asked. “He was talking smack about me, first. He bade me I should not have ado with him because he could defeat me easily. At first I thought it was a friendly warning, but no, he said it for mockery. So Bleoberis here defended my honor.”
“And then after he beat me up, Gawaine tried to attack him, and well, look at Gawaine here,” Bleoberis added. “It wasn’t pretty.”
“This sounds very similar to Palomides’s and my encounter with him,” noted Tristram.
“Let him go, that’s my advice,” said Gawaine. “After I’ve recuperated I’ll take him out, I tell you what!”
“No-can-doosville,” said Tristram. “By the way, have we met?”
(Seriously Malory says that is a question that Tristram asked.)
Gawaine just looked at him. “I’m Sir Gawaine, King Arthur’s favorite nephew,” he eventually said.
“Pleased to meet you! I am Sir Tristram de Liones.”
“And de Brittany, am I right?” asked Bleoberis with a chuckle.
“Arthur’s client state in Normandy? You married King Howell’s daughter, he retired…?”
“Not ringing a bell.”
“We’ve actually met quite a few times…”
“Have we, though?”
Eventually Tristram left Bleoberis and Gawaine, and resumed his chase of the Fair Knight. On the trail he spied Sir Kay and Sir Dinadan, hanging out together for some reason.
“Yo,” said Tristram, apparently recognizing some dudes at last. I mean, c’mon. This was Arthur’s adoptive brother and Tristram’s Book IX designated sidekick/victim. These were people he knew. “How’s it hanging?”
“Pretty bad,” grumbled Kay.
“Well, tell me about it. But make it quick, I’m hunting this Fair Knight…”
“Did he have a shield with, like, a cloth covering?”
Kay grunted. “Thought so. Same guy. Me and Dinadan were lodging at a widow’s house last night, and there was this jerk of a knight saying all kinds of things about King Arthur.”
“And Guenever!” piped up Dinadan.
“Especially Guenever,” agreed Kay. “Anyway, naturally I defended my sister-in-law, and he turned out to be a Launcelot-class villain, let me tell you. Smote me down and hurt me passing sore.”
“It was nasty,” said Dinadan. “I was going to intervene, but then I figured, if this guy can beat up Kay so easily, what’s the point?”
“Fair enough,” said Tristram. “Now, one last thing. I’m Sir Tristram de Liones. What are your names?”
Seriously! Tristram asked them their names. He and Dinadan were in prison together! They bonded! Christ, what an asshole.
Then Tristram abruptly gave up the chase. He recuperated in a convent for a couple of weeks, and the Fair Knight would never be mentioned again. He sent his manservant Gouvernail out to procure a new bridle for his horse. Gouvernail had been with Tristram this whole time, Malory insists.
Once he had this new bridle, Tristram waved goodbye to the widow in whose house he’d recuperated (you know and I know that just last paragraph Malory asserted Tristram recuperated at a convent, but there’s no use arguing with him) and headed off towards his appointment with Sir Palomides. On the way, he bumped into two more Knights of the Round Table, Sir Sagramour and Sir Dodinas. You don’t remember them, which is okay. They encountered Tristram before, back in Book VIII. They were, in fact, some of the first Camelot knights Tristram encountered: they wandered Cornwall making trouble, Tristram rode out and defeated them, and afterwards he decided he wanted to learn more about this whole ‘Round Table’ thing.
“Ahoy, stranger!” they called. “Wanna joust?”
“Another time,” said Tristram. “Right now I’m on my way to an appointment.”
“Maugre your head!” cried Sagramour “Joust with us! Or we don’t let you pass us on the road!”
“Whatever.” Tristram easily dehorsed Sagramour, then Dodinas. Tristram didn’t dismount, but instead rode on, and his man Gouvernail with him. Malory is trying super hard not to forget all about Gouvernail this time, you guys.
Sagramour and Dodinas wouldn’t take the hint! They remounted and chased after Tristram, so they could complain at him for just dehorsing them and riding away without further discussion, which was an insult.
“Sod off,” suggested Tristram. “Listen, I’m on my way to a fight, and I want to remain in top shape for it. I fight you, I might pull a muscle in the process of breaking all the bones in y’all’s bodies. I need to guard myself for my upcoming scheduled joust.”
“Who’re you jousting, anyway?” asked Sagramour
Sagramour winced. “Ye have cause to dread him because he’s one of the top-tier knights. There’s him, Launcelot of course, Tristram…”
“My name is Sir Tristram de Liones.”
Sagramour and Dodinas totally failed to point out that they’d met before. Even though it had been a whole big thing at the time. At least in this case it had been a while since they last talked, unlike Tristram’s recent interactions with Palomides and Dinadan. Instead Sagramour and Dodinas merely observed that they had heard of Tristram, and then they backed away. Slowly.
Tristram continued on, until he arrived at the so-called porch Merlin set up back in Book II on the site of Lanceor’s death at the hands of Balin. You probably don’t remember this, but it, too, had been a whole big thing at the time.
From Book II, Chapter 8:
“The great battle shall be here,” Merlin announced.
Mark jumped, because he hadn’t heard Merlin coming up. “Gah! Sneak up on a guy. I beg your pardon!”
“The great battle, the greatest between two knights that shall ever happen, will happen here. And neither shall slay the other!” cried Merlin.
Merlin pulled out a pen which wrote in gold, and inscribed upon the door of the tomb two names: LAUNCELOT DE LAKE and TRISTRAM. “Those are the knights who shall fight here,” he said to Mark.
“Well aren’t you an interesting fellow,” said Mark.
Mark had also been there. I forgot about that bit. Anyway. Lanceor had been the son of the king of Ireland, which would have made the lovely Isoud his sister. Malory spends a lot of words reminding us about this prophecy, so you know what that means! Tristram spied a knight all in shining white armor, loitering near the porch. “That must be Palomides!” he thought to himself, and attacked this other knight without a word.
FOUR HOURS OF MELEE LATER
Launcelot, lying wounded on the grass, congratulated Tristram for being such a fine jouster. “Hardly anyone ever wounds me. What’s your name, then?”
“Oh, you know how it is,” said Tristram, lying wounded next to him. “You tell a guy your name, and he’s all…”
“…oh, it’s Sir Launcelot and if I joust him I’ll shoot up to the top ranks of knighthood. Right now while he’s trying to eat is totally the best time to bother him.” Launcelot finished the sentence.
“You’re Launcelot? Dang. I thought you were a different guy. I should have said something. My bad. I think this is only the second time I’ve ever apologized for anything, and it’s probably also the last, but for what it’s worth, ye are the man in the world that I love best, even though I’m not sure we’ve ever had an actual conversation before.”
“Oh ah,” said Launcelot. He’s understandably confused.
“It’s me, Sir Tristram!”
“Oh! Jeez. This is embarrassing. I was looking for you! I had my Tristram Rescue Squad going after you, and here we are.”
Launcelot tried to surrender to Tristram, and Tristram tried to surrender to Launcelot, and they passed one another’s swords back and forth. As massive battles foretold by Merlin go, it’s kind of anticlimactic.
Although: they made out, by way of apology. Serious makeouts between Launcelot and Tristram. Each kissed other an hundred times.
Then Launcelot escorted Tristram to Camelot, where they bumped into Sir Gawaine and his brother Sir Gaheris.
“Check it out!” said Launcelot. “We can call off the Tristram Rescue Squad, because here he is!”
“Sweet,” said Gawaine. He was a little embarrassed on account of he and Tristram met a few chapters back and Gawaine had entirely forgotten people were looking for the guy. “Looking for you was incredibly tedious and unpleasant and I’m glad it’s over. Ye have eased me greatly of my labor. I sure was working hard at it! It’ll be great to get away from that, whew. So what brings you out this way, Tristram?”
“I’m supposed to joust Sir Palomides at Merlin’s porch. You know, the tomb of Sir Lanceor? The place Merlin raised up a monument saying TRISTRAM AND LAUNCELOT WILL FIGHT HERE BUT NOT TO THE DEATH? Have you seen Palomides, by the way?”
“Seen who?” asked Arthur, who moseyed up at this point.
So Launcelot told Arthur about how they had just fought but not to the death, thus completing Merlin’s prophecy. Then Tristram backtracked further, and explained again how was scheduled to fight Palomides. And that meant he had to explain how he’d rescued Palomides from Pitiless Bruce.
Gawaine hissed. “Pitiless Bruce! He’s my nemesis! I totally called nemesis on him!”
And finally Tristram explained that after he’d happened upon Palomides he ended up chasing the mysterious Fair Knight, before he quit.
“That guy!” Gawaine grumbled. “He defeated me and Bleoberis and also Kay.”
“Fair Knight? Who is this Fair Knight?” asked Arthur. But no one knows. Arthur accused Launcelot, but not seriously. Nobody had seen the Fair Knight, and nobody had seen Palomides, either. That was probably not evidence they were the same person.
Arthur, together with his entourage, took Tristram into Camelot and gave him a tour of the Round Table and the damosels. Everybody cheered.
“Welcome, Tristram,” said the damosels in perfect unison.
“Welcome, Tristram,” said the knights in very ragged unison.
“Welcome, Tristram,” said Arthur. “A great knight, and I’m told a gentleman also, and a scholar. They say you are the greatest hunter, the greatest horn-blower, the greatest at all the various flavors of venery inside the bedroom and out! As well you are a skilled harpist and of course a Launcelot-level jouster. Welcome at long last to Camelot. I’m expressly not mentioning Book VIII, Chapter 19, the last time you were here. That was pre-Crisis. And also I pray you grant me a boon.”
“Of course!” cried Tristram, his head spinning with Arthur’s flattery. “Name it, sire!”
“Stay here in Camelot and become one of my knights.” Arthur made a ta-da gesture, and the crowd applauded.
Tristram gestured no-thank-you as the applause died down. “Oh, wow. It’s an honor, I guess, but I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire, all over. Brittany, Servage, Cornwall, Ireland…”
“Too late!” crowed Arthur. “You said you’d do a boon, and now you’re stuck. Nothing personal,” he added. “I’ve had that boon-to-be-named-later bullroar played on me, like, a dozen times. I just really wanted to reverse it! And I must admit, it feels pretty sweet.”
Tristram sighed. “So I’m stuck?”
“You bet you’re stuck! But it’s not all bad, let me get you a chair at the best table ever. I got married just to get this table; that’s how great a table it is.”
Arthur showed Tristram to his new seat at the Round Table, which had SIR MARHAUS crossed out and SIR TRISTRAM written in. Malory helpfully reminds us that Sir Marhaus was the very first knight Tristram had encountered on his very first strange adventure, way back in Book VIII. Tristram slew him, but Arthur was copacetic with that; at the time Marhaus had acted as an agent of Ireland, rather than of Camelot, so no hard feelings.