Malory wants to tell us a little bit about Sir Dinas. It hadn’t come up before and it wouldn’t come up again, but Sir Dinas had a little bit of backstory. Once upon a time, says Malory, Sir Dinas had a special lady-friend, Monique, who also had a second lover, one she preferred to Dinas. One day while Dinas was out hunting, Monique creeped off to make time with, oh, let’s call him Lloyd. Also she brought her two dogs with her. Monique had two dogs.
But then Dinas came home early. When he saw his lady-friend and his dogs were gone, he panics. “Oh no! Where are my dogs?” he cried. Sir Dinas came home and misses his paramour and his brachets, then he was the more worther for his brachets than for the lady. Monique and Dinas had owned the dogs in common, I guess.
Dinas had an idea about where the dogs were, though: he headed over to Lloyd’s place posthaste! There he found them and Monique all romping with Lloyd. Dinas demanded Lloyd joust with him, and of course he broke Lloyd’s arm and also Lloyd’s leg. In the end, Monique begged Dinas to spare Lloyd, promising to never cheat on him ever again.
“No way,” said Dinas. “You can’t trust a cheater.”
Then he took his dogs and left. He never spoke to Monique or Lloyd again. The end!
Malory doesn’t seem to remember why he thought it was so important to tell us this story. Instead he launches into a little recap about how Launcelot, leader and founder of the Tristram Rescue Squad, continued to seek out Tristram. Launcelot couldn’t find him, though, on account of Tristram was locked up in Sir Darras’s castle with his fellow prisoners Sir Dinadan and Sir Palomides. Launcelot had been working with Dame Bragwaine, but she gave up and went home to Cornwall. Launcelot ended up hitting Surluse, a country that would come up again a couple times later on (and which may or may not be in western Germany) with Kay and Gaheris.
That’s totally barking up the wrong tree; Sir Darras’s castle was in the North of Logris-England-Britain. So yeah, no rescue immediately forthcoming for Sir Tristram, last seen in a depressive episode (not his first) deep in Darras’s dungeons. Malory forgets he already explained the interpersonal dynamics among the prisoner, and goes through it again: Tristram despaired, Palomides berated Tristram, Dinadan defended Tristram, Palomides apologized.
Tristram roused himself to reiterate that he didn’t want to fight Palomides under these circumstances, that they were stuck in prison, that Palomides was being a jerk, and that their real opposition was Sir Darras, who might have had them all executed at any time.
Enter Muriel, a damosel. “Knights,” she said, “I’ve just come from Sir Darras’s court, upstairs. Let me lead off by assuring you that he’s definitely not going to execute you!” I guess this was because Malory didn’t want to freak us all out with too much suspense?
This was good news, yet Tristram sank further into the depths of despair and fever. He brought everybody down: Palomides, Dinadan, Muriel, everybody. Muriel reported back to Sir Darras that his dungeon was a real downer of a happening. Tristram might have died of grief and/or infection.
“That won’t do at all!” boomed Sir Darras. “I can’t have knights dying in my prison when I’ve decided not to execute them! Tristram’s death would severely undercut my authority!”
Darras summoned Tristram up to his court. “Apparently you’re dying of depression? Stop it at once! You’re a noble knight with a lot of friends who would try to avenge you if you died in my dungeon. Wit ye well it shall never be said that Sir Darras shall destroy such a noble knight as thou art, in prison. I mean, yes, you did kill three of my sons at the tournament of the Castle of Maidens, even though all of my sons arrived home safe and sound. I was angry about that, I admit it. But it’s wrong to blame you for a continuity error. And I can’t keep you here if you’re going to die, so, apparently I’m freeing you.”
“Just so you know,” said Tristram, “if they had been my brothers, in the heat of the moment, I would have killed them anyway. It’s a violent and chaotic time out there, on the tournament field. Really it’s a wonder any knights survive at all.”
Darras grunted. “Well, my other two sons have recovered from their injuries. Promise not to kill them, okay? And remind us all one more time who you are, even though my actions up to this point have been predicated in part on my knowledge of your identity? Apparently I’ve forgotten? Malory claims I don’t know.”
Tristram explained that he was Sir Tristram of Liones, nephew of King Mark of Cornwall. He didn’t mention his status as the king of Brittany or the husband of Isoud the White, because that was old news and no longer relevant to his life, I guess. He also refused to make any promises about Darras’s other two sons — he wouldn’t go out of his way to murder them or anything, but if he ended up jousting them, hey, jousting was a dangerous game. It was the jai alai of Arthurian times. But Tristram declared that he owed Darras a favor. “By the faith of my body, ever while I live I will do you service.”
Tristram recovered from his illness, and when he was big and strong they took their leave, which is just an adorable phrasing. Tristram, Dinadan, and Palomides all left Castle Darras together, but then they split up, and as per usual, Malory wants to track each knight’s strange adventure separately. First up, Sir Dinadan!
Sir Dinadan’s strange adventure turns out to be pretty brief, and also to require a trigger warning perhaps, inasmuch as he met a damosel who made great dole. Long story short, she told Dinadan how Pitiless Bruce had murdered her brother and ever since hath kept her at his own will, and of all the men in the world she hated him the most. Dinadan happened to be in the right place at the right time; Pitiless Bruce was just a few minutes behind her on the road.
When Pitiless Bruce saw a man talking to the woman he considered his property, naturally he became enraged and charged. Bruce and Dinadan fought, not so much a joust as Dinadan beating the crap out of Rapist Bruce in a no-rules beat-’em-up. Bruce fled, as he always did. Afterwards Dinadan walked the damosel four miles up the road to her uncle’s castle, where they were both welcomed and feted.
The end! The moral: don’t rape anybody or else Sir Dinadan will beat the crap out of you.
Sir Palomides’s strange adventure is so boring Malory clean forgets about it, so we skip straight to Sir Tristram’s strange adventure. Tristram’s is pretty good, Malory says. It has Morgan le Fay in I!
Sir Tristram rode along until nightfall, when he stopped at a castle and requested a room for the night, as was knightly custom. By staggering coincidence, this castle happened to be one of Morgan le Fay’s, and even more staggeringly coincidental, she happened to be in residence. Of course she was pleased as punch to offer Tristram a room, but in the morning when he wanted to leave, all the doors were suspiciously locked.
“Jesu defend!” cried Tristram, when Morgan announced her plan to keep him prisoner. “I was just in prison!”
“Well, get used to it,” said Morgan. “I’m pretty sure you’re a main character knight, but I can’t tell which one, so until I figure that out, you’re going to be my honored guest.”
Tristram scowled and kicked the ground.
Morgan turned to her current lover, Sir Hemison. “Hemison, move your stuff one seat down. I want Sir Guy Incognito here right next to me.”
Sir Hemison reluctantly obeyed, but as he watched Morgan flirt with Tristram he was overcome with emotion! He quaked! He shuddered! He would very much have liked to joust Tristram but not at the dinner table!
Morgan realized that she was being unfair to Hemison. She sighed. “Listen, Guy, it’s been fun, but I suppose I should let you go. You don’t want to be here, and it upsets Hemison.” (Morgan le Fay: super-villain! So evil, Malory keeps reminding us!) “So tell you what, you tell me your name and I’ll let you go, Queen’s honor.” Morgan extended her hand, and she and Tristram shook on it.
“All right then, I may as well tell you I’m Sir Tristram of Liones, nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, et cetera, et cetera.”
Morgan did a spit-take. “Really?! I can’t believe it! There’s only one knight who’s higher than you on my get list, and I didn’t even recognize you? I had a whole conspiracy of maiden-assassins set up specifically to target you! Man, I am not doing well at the whole magic thing. Well, you’re free to go. A promise is a promise.” (Morgan le Fay! The main antagonist of all Arthuriana, everybody!) “But,” Morgan continued, “can you do me a favor? King Arthur is putting together a tournament at Hard Rock Castle. Normally I don’t send knights to his tournaments, what with our ongoing feud, but would you be willing to go there as my champion? I have a shield for you.”
“Is it like, some kind of cursed shield that will explode when it gets too close to King Arthur or something?”
“What? No.” Morgan made a face. “No, it’s just a shield with my device on it. I made up a new device for myself, just in case I ever had a knight to send out. Shield!”
Someone handed Morgan the shield. It was a fine shield: well-made, not too heavy, balanced, a fair shield and a mighty. The image upon it was three figures: a king and a queen and a knight. They were positioned in a triangle, with the knight appearing to stand with one foot on the king’s head, and the other on the queen’s.
“Um, okay,” said Tristram. “I can use this shield. What’s up with this device, though? I was imagining, I don’t know, a woman with a sword, or something crazy like that.”
“Oh, no, see, the king and the queen are Arthur and Guenever, and the knight is, well, it’s my private little joke. Guenever knows what it’s about. As does the knight in question, of course.”
Just in case you couldn’t figure it out on your own, Malory explains patiently that the knight on the shield is Launcelot. The shield is a commentary on how Launcelot has come between Arthur and Guenever. Morgan, whom Launcelot rejected back in Book VI (Morgan got over it, according to Malory), put the shield together as a signal to Launcelot and Guenever that she knew of their affair, and as a signal to King Arthur. Morgan hoped that Arthur would look at Tristram’s shield, cry out in understanding, and then boom, they could all skip ahead to Book XX, Arthur versus Launcelot, and the Camelot endgame.
Tristram didn’t get any of this, but he agreed to take the shield to the tournament at Hard Rock Castle.
After Tristram had left, Morgan’s paramour, Sir Hemison mounted up in full arms and armor.
“Where are you going, all dressed up?” she asked him.
“Going to catch up to Tristram and joust him. I didn’t like the way he was eyeing you. You’re my lady!”
“Okay, well.” Morgan slouched into a seat. “A, we have an open relationship and we’ve talked about that. ‘Nothing serious Morgan,’ those were your exact words when we discussed this last Tuesday; B, you have a very selective memory because it was me eyeing him, and I’m thinking this is something you and I need to address, not you and Tristram; and C, don’t go jousting him, because he will kill you. He’s Sir Tristram!”
“Pssht,” said Hemison. “I’m just ignoring your first two points. You think that was really Sir Tristram, though? No way. The real Sir Tristram is back in Cornwall sleeping with the lovely Isoud, everyone knows that. This is just some impostor trading on Tristram’s reputation.”
“I don’t think so, and also I think I know better than you do,” replied Morgan. “Seriously, don’t go after him.”
“For your sake I shall slay him!“
“Hemison, fair friend, he means nothing to me, for serious, and I don’t want you to die. Take the word of your lover, your queen, and your sorceress with precognitive powers, and believe me when I say don’t do it!”
“I’ll show you! I’m as good a knight as anyone!” roared Hemison, and rode off, all wroth.
Hemison caught up to Tristram, and they jousted. It went like so.
Hemison attacks Tristram with PUNY LANCE! It’s not very effective. Tristram defends against PUNY LANCE with SUPERIOR ARMOR.
Tristram attacks Hemison with SOLID LANCE! Critical hit! Hemison has taken a deadly wound!
Really, it was a slaughter. Tristram didn’t even dismount. After he dehorsed Hemison, he intended to, to continue the joust on foot. But then he saw that Hemison was just lying there on the ground bleeding, and figured there was no need to finish him off with his sword.
Once Tristram had ridden off, Hemison’s valet emerged from hiding and rushed to his boss.
“Boss! Are you alive? Can you sign my last paycheck before you die?”
“Not quite dead,” said Hemison. “Do me a favor and carry me back to Morgan, would you? I’d like to see her before I die.”
The valet carried Hemison back to Morgan’s castle, where he saw her. Then he died.
Morgan let out a big cinematic NOOOOO! She ripped Hemison’s blood-soaked shirt off his lifeless body and sobbed into it, a nice little detail of the sort Malory usually doesn’t bother to include. She then arranged for a nice tomb for him, with HERE LIES THE VERY HANDSOME AND AFFECTIONATE HEMISON, BRUTALLY MURDERED BY TRISTRAM DE LIONES, as his epitaph.
On his way to Hard Rock Castle, Tristram lodged at a manor where Sir Ector-the-Lesser and his lady-friend had stayed the night before, purely by chance. At dinner, the host remarked that Ector’s girlfriend eagerly talked up her boyfriend’s knightly prowess, declaring him the best knight in the islands.
“I don’t know about that,” said Tristram. “I mean, there are four better knights just that he’s related to. Ector is a fine knight, but he’s Sir Launcelot little brother, you know. Launcelot is the best knight. Then there’s their cousins Sir Bors, Sir Bleoberis, Sir Blamore… heck, I’d put Sir Gaheris in above Sir Ector. No offense to Ector.”
“Wait, you say Gaheris, surely you mean his brother Sir Gawaine,” said the host. “I all the time hear about his knightly deeds.”
“Exaggerations,” sniffed Tristram. “I know them both, and Gaheris is the better knight, let me tell you. Also Sir Lamorak is better than either of them.”
“Hmm,” said the host. “Where you put Sir Tristram in your rankings?”
“Never heard of him,” said Tristram, because I guess that was the knightly thing to do, was lie about your identity constantly.
Eventually Tristram arrived at the tournament, where he of course performed marvelously (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 23!). Guenever recognized his shield as a message to her, and called over Sir Ector-the-Lesser. She told him privately that she was sure the knight with the editorial cartoon on his shield had been sent by Morgan to embarrass her.
Arthur didn’t grasp the significance of the shield, even when Morgan teleported in disguised as a damosel and told him point-blank it was about him and Guenever before teleporting back out again. The teleportation pissed Arthur off way more than the accusations of cuckoldry, which Arthur shrugged off. It was almost as though Arthur didn’t give a good goddamn who Guenever was sleeping with, because theirs was a loveless, purely political marriage.
The king did enjoy Tristram’s performance, though, and wondered aloud who he could be. He was going full Launcelot on them! Very few knights could fight at Launcelot’s weight class, and as far as Arthur knew, they were all tied up in Launcelot’s so-called Tristram Rescue Squad, still wandering the land. Last he’d heard they were heading to Brittany, where rumor had it that Tristram was king and had married a woman named Isoud the White.
“I’m sure I would remember something like that,” muttered Tristram. When asked, he identified himself only as Morgan le Fay’s champion for the tournament.
“I really want to decode that shield,” said Arthur. “There’s something there. That mysterious teleporting maiden was probably correct when she said it concerned me. There was something about adultery, but I’m sure it’s something else. I’ll figure this one out, I tell you. I just need a little more information.”
“Oy,” said Guenever.
“Well,” said Arthur. “I’ll just ask him. Yo, Sir Knight! If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate an explanation of that device on your shield.”
“Feh!” Tristram saw no reason to be obsequious to Arthur, or even civil. “Whatever. This isn’t even my shield, really. Morgan le Fay gave it to me. I don’t know what’s up with the king and the queen and the knight. I don’t care, either.”
Arthur didn’t like this answer. “You ought to care! It’s your shield, or you’re using it at least. You should know what it means if you’re going to go around brandishing it. What’s your name, anyway?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“…Because I’m asking?” Arthur was baffled. Is it a trick question?
“Yeah, whatever, no,” said Tristram. “Not telling.”
“I’m getting pretty sick of your attitude,” said Arthur. “In fact, let’s joust over it. We’re at a tournament, after all.”
“Oh, what, big man, huh, just cause a guy won’t tell you his name you gotta joust him, huh?” Tristram sneered at Arthur a bit. “Then you accuse me of copping an attitude! Turns out you’re just a villainous knight, sitting there on your throne acting all high and mighty… I just jousted a bunch of guys and you’re totally fresh, you cheater!”
Nobody was allowed to call King Arthur a cheater! They jousted. It’s indecisive but Tristram had the upper hand; he dehorsed and wounded Arthur. Arthur was back up on his feet quickly, though, with Excalibur in his hand, ready for the on-foot swording portion of the joust.
Then Sir Uwaine, whom Tristram had been about to joust before he got sidetracked with Arthur, leaped into the fray! Uwaine came at Tristram with the intent of rescuing the king. They jousted for a bit, and Tristram dehorsed him, too.
“All you people are jackasses!” cried Tristram, to everyone around. “I didn’t want to do this! They made me! Arthur is the real enemy!”
Arthur sighed heavily. “I suppose I could have avoided this wound by just leaving Sir Shield-Haver over there alone.” He helped Uwaine up.
“I dunno, sire,” said Uwaine. “That guy’s a strong knight… as any is now living, sure, but he’s also an incredible asshole.”
Meanwhile, Tristram dropped out of the Hard Rock Castle tournament. His original plan had involved presenting himself at Camelot and getting a job working for Arthur, but after the ugly scene above, he instead just wandered the countryside for a while, looking for Sir Launcelot. Could he find Sir Launcelot? No, he couldn’t.
“I don’t even know if he’s alive or dead,” grumbled Tristram. “This is stupid. Stupid!” He kicked at the ground, shuffled, whined, the whole petulant bit.
But then Tristram encountered Sir Palomides, last seen going his separate way after he and Tristram had bonded in prison. As Tristram spotted him, Palomides was engaged in a fight for his life with Pitiless Bruce and eight of Pitiless Bruce’s crime-thugs!
I can’t believe I’d never heard of Pitiless Bruce. He shows up a lot, for a guy I’d never heard of. Though to be fair I’d never heard of Sir Palomides either, and I had only a vague notion of who Tristram was. Really Malory’s entry into the Arthurian canon is lush with characters I’d never heard of. Most of them are one-dimensional and interchangeable, but still.
“Unhand my off-again, on-again nemesis!” cried Tristram.
“Come on, boys,” shouted Pitiless Bruce. “There’s nine of us and two of them!”
Mmmyeah, not so much. Tristram dismounted and ran up on Pitiless Bruce’s men on foot that they should not slay his horse. He beat some guys up. Bruce’s men broke ranks, panicked, fled immediately (Bruce in front) into a nearby tower. Tristram chased, but they slammed the door on him.
Afterwards Tristram sauntered back to Sir Palomides. Bruce had wounded him, so Palomides’d staggered over to a tree to lie down.
“Yo,” said Palomides. “You pretty much just saved my life, thanks.”
“No big. What is your name?“
Palomides shot Tristram a quizzical look. “…My name is Sir Palomides. We’ve met many, many times. We were one another’s nemeses for a while? Then we were in prison together? Now we’re friends? You seemed to recognize me when you just now rescued me?”
“O Jesu! Palomides! My nemesis! Have at thee!” And Tristram moved to attack! Even though Palomides was lying down. He was either very confused or a tremendous asshole. I’m guessing he was both, actually.
“Dude! Dude!” Palomides waved him off. “So a, we’re friends now, and b, you just now saved me, and c, I’m lying here with a big shoulder gash. How about we don’t fight?”
“Hmm, well, okay.” Tristram glowered. “But sometime in the future, when you’re well, then we joust. Meet me in the meadow by the river of Camelot, where Merlin set the peron.”
“It’s like a porch.” For the benefit of the reader, I’ll explain that the location to which Tristram referred was the site of Sir Balin’s joust with Sir Lanceor, back in Book II. Never mind that at that time, Malory described the location first as a mountain pass and then I think it was a forest for a line or two. At this point in the narrative it was a meadow by a river. “So, Palomides, if that’s your real name –“
“We’ve known one another for literally years at this point, Tristram.”
“Why, I wonder,” Tristram asked, pressing on, “why was it that you happened to be in a fight with those ten knights?”
“It was Pitiless Bruce plus eight knights. But sure. Funny story. Remember how, when last we separated, you and me and Sir Dinadan all went out in different directions to have contemporaneous strange adventures?”
“Not even a little bit!” thundered Tristram.
“Yeah, well, it happened.” Palomides sighed. “I ran into a woman standing over a corpse and weeping, I asked her what was up, like you do, and she was all, Pitiless Bruce just murdered my husband, that’s him lying here, woe woe sob.”
“Pitiless Bruce, you say?”
“Sir Breuse Saunce Pite, the very same. Whom you chased into a tower a little while ago. That tower there!” Palomides pointed. “So naturally I helped her bury her late husband, vowed vengeance on her behalf, all that knightly stuff. Then when we rode past this tower here…” Palomides paused to point, again, on the grounds that even though he’d seen it with his own eyes mere moments prior, Tristram had probably forgotten about it already. “And whop, out pops Pitiless Bruce, who knocks down my horse!”
“Double jerk! Because while I was getting back up off the ground where I fell when my horse was stabbed out from under me, Pitiless Bruce straight up murdered the widow who rode with me!”
“Hence the melee with Bruce and his eight or nine or ten underlings. Then I was wounded, then you rescued me, and that brings us up to the present.”
“Well,” said Tristram, “now I understand the manner of your battle, but in any wise have remembrance of your promise that ye have made with me to do battle with me this day fortnight.”
“I know, I know,” sighed Palomides. “But right now you’re going to help me slay Pitiless Bruce, right? Probably you can break into his tower over there.”
“Screw that,” said Tristram. “I’ma take you through the forest and drop you off at some safe hermitage or convent to recover.”
So Tristram made zero effort to break into Bruce’s tower. Instead he dragged Palomides, who was gravely wounded remember, through the forest. Eventually they stopped at a well, where Tristram decided to drink some water. He dismounted and noticed another horse already tied up next to the well, and a fair knight armed, lying napping under a tree. This ‘Fair Knight’ was using his helmet for a pillow but otherwise he had on full battle dress.
“Hey, check it out Palomides,” saidTristram. “A sleeping knight! Maybe I’ll stab him for fun!”
“Jeez, Tristram, at least wake the guy up first!”
So Tristram poked him with the butt of his spear until he’s awake.
And then — you would never see this coming — the Fair Knight woke up, pulled his helmet on, swore a bit, and then, hefting a spear of his own, charged Tristram!
The Fair Knight dehorsed Tristram, which is funny, because Malory indicated earlier in the same paragraph that Tristram had dismounted. He wounded Tristram, then dehorsed and wounded the already-injured Palomides. At this point the strange knight left them there, and took his way through the forest.
Tristram slowly rose to his feet, as did Palomides. “Wow,” said Tristram.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have poked him,” suggested Palomides.
“By my head I will follow this strong knight that thus hath shamed us.“
“…Yeah, I’m opting out of this one.”
“Pfft, whatever. Just remember that we’re going to meet up and fight in a fortnight. At the porch Merlin made.”
“At Merlin’s porch, sure. Listen, assuming I’m not sick or captured, I’ll be there.”
“Yeah, you better.”
“Assuming I don’t die of these injuries I suffered, I mean. I’m sure that dragging me through the woods and then abandoning me by a well is the best possible treatment for my wounds, though. I’ll be fine. You on the other hand may be dead, since you’re going off to, I don’t even know, with the guy you just attacked… for no reason…”
Tristram waved away Palomides’s concerns, and rode off.
I’m starting to think Tristram’s characterization is consistent with bipolar disorder.