This tale may have been written while Malory was in the throes of a stroke, or possibly two pages were stuck together and his editor missed it, or something, because not only does it make no sense in the familiar Malory fashion, it also has some very basic continuity and structural problems. I have stitched together a story that makes about as much sense as anything else in Book IX, but I warn you, odds are higher than usual that some kind of funny business is going on and I’ve misunderstood a basic plot point.
Sir Tristram and his new companion Sir Dinadan arrived in England, and journeyed towards Camelot. At a bridge, they met a couple of Arthur’s knights, Sir Ector-the-Lesser and Sir Bors Junior (King Bors’s son). Just for funsies, Ector and Dinadan jousted. Afterwards Tristram wanted to joust with Bors, but Bors refused because he was racist against Cornishmen. (Did you know? Bors would later become the technical winner of the Quest for the Holy Grail.)
The two pairs of knights then went their separate ways. Ector and Bors bumped into another couple of friends of theirs, Sir Bleoberis and Sir Driant, and while they swapped the traditional greeting high-fives, a damosel ran up to them. Rashida, let’s say, was her name. Rashida had come from the land of Gore, Morgan le Fay’s country. Morgan, she claimed, had decided that it was high time someone murder Sir Launcelot. To that end, Morgan had arranged an ambush of thirty Gorean knights, lying in wait where Launcelot should pass. The ambush site wasn’t far. Rashida claimed that when she learned of this plan, she was so ashamed of her queen arranging an ambush that she decided to defect to Arthur’s side. Thus she had come to warn Launcelot, and find his friends to save him. Ector, Bors, Bleoberis, and Driant all took this threat very seriously!
Tristram and Dinadan met Rashida, too, in a separate encounter. After she filled them in about the ambush as well, Tristram volunteered to rescue Launcelot, his eyes starry with dreams of heroism! Sir Dinadan considered this a bad plan. There were thirty Gorean knights and two of Hypothetical Team Launcelot+Tristram. 15:1 odds were not good odds. Tristram points out that if Dinadan helped too, it would be just 10:1 odds. Dinadan declined. He asked for Tristram’s shield, which was a Cornish shield, so that when people found Tristram’s body they wouldn’t see the shield and think, ah, now, this is why the guy died, he was Cornish and too stupid to avoid 15:1 odds.
This upset Tristram, who suggested that Dinadan should leave before Tristram sliced his head off, or at least Dinadan should agree to bear witness to Tristram’s awesome Launcelot-rescuing bravery.
“Fine,” said Dinadan. “It’s your funeral.” Also Dinadan regretted taking this trip with Tristram, and Tristram was a jerk. But Dinadan stayed with Tristram, intending to watch as he and Launcelot were cut down by an overwhelming opposition.
Meanwhile the other group of knights, Ector and Bors and the others, arrived at the ambush site. There thirty knights from Gore were indeed lying in wait to ambush Launcelot, but then they saw these guys weren’t Launcelot. Knights besides Launcelot? This was not part of their plan! So instead of attacking, the Gorean knights just sort of sprang out from their hiding places and nonchalantly walked down the road, ignoring the knights and being super casual about it. Bors and his group decided to tail them and keep an eye out for Launcelot while they did.
So the thirty Goreans strolled down the road, discretely tailed. They talked among themselves about how unfair it was that Launcelot had buddies. They hadn’t been expecting that, and Morgan would be annoyed. Tristram and Dinadan, coming up the other way, saw them. Tristram recognized Goreans as Morgan’s ambush force, shouts something about how he would rescue Launcelot, and charged the mass of them! It’s safe to say Morgan’s squad wasn’t expecting it, mainly because Launcelot wasn’t around.
Tristram batted away a dozen of them, but the other half of the force threatened to overwhelm him. Dinadan sighed. He glumly joined the battle, rescuing Tristram and killing a few more of the Gorean knights. The surviving ten or so members of the ambush group fled.
Bors Junior, Bleoberis, Driant, and Ector-the-Lesser all saw this battle as they walked up the road, though they arrived too late to participate. Everyone was impressed by Tristram’s valor, and afterwards Bleoberis invited Tristram to lunch, or an overnight stay in their cabin. Dinner, or dinner and breakfast? Inexplicably, Tristram declined. Equally inexplicably, though a) Bleoberis had met him a couple of times before and b) he and Dinadan had just encountered Ector and Bors earlier that same day, Arthur’s knights asked Tristram for his name. Tristram declared he’s traveling incognito, for no particular reason.
This scene tells us something new about Sir Tristram, namely that he wanted to make things harder on himself for no reason. It also tells us that Sir Dinadan is the first character in a long while willing to call Tristram on his bullroar. It’s a shame that Bors, Ector, and the other knights failed to recognize Dinadan’s bravery in rescuing Tristram from the Goreans. Seriously, they were so eager to laud Tristram and discuss his many martial virtues that Sir Dinadan didn’t rate a single accolade.
Tristram and Dinadan rode along, in theory towards distant Camelot. It was getting along in the day and neither he nor Dinadan had eaten lunch. So they stopped and bugged some shepherds for food. The shepherds had no food, but they could point the knights towards yonder castle.
“It’s a great place for knights to stay,” the shepherds said. “There’s just one little quirk: there shall no knight be harboured but if he joust with two knights, and if he be but one knight he must joust with two.”
“For a knight to stay there overnight he has to defeat two other knights in battle. And if he’s a knight, he has to defeat two knights!”
“The second half of that warning makes very little sense,” said Dinadan, speaking for your humble narrator.
“Sounds good,” said Tristram.
“No it doesn’t, it sounds stupid!” snapped Dinadan. “This is crazy and stupid! Why should we have to joust two knights just to stay overnight? I’ll just sleep out in a field. Better that than deal with this bullroar.”
“What? You should be ashamed of yourself!” Tristram was on a hair trigger! “Aren’t you in the Round Table? Honestly, are you? I forget. But either way, dude! You shouldn’t be afraid of fighting!”
“To be fair,” interjected a shepherd, “if you lose the fight they beat you up and you don’t get to sleep there.”
“I really question the logic of trying to stay in a castle where you have to fight guys just for a mattress,” grumbled Dinadan.
According to Malory, Dinadan and Tristram argued about this for a fair bit, until Tristram just flat-out pulled rank on Dinadan and ordered him to fight. They got to the castle, and then it turns out to be no big deal, inasmuch as it was a team matchup. In a two-on-two fight Tristram and Dinadan won easily.
“Great,” said Dinadan afterwards. “I’m going to bed, and I’m going to sleep late, with this bottle of wine and this lady and this roast turkey leg. I’m going to have a private little RenFair party.”
So he got ready for bed, but then there was a pounding on the door of the castle. Two knights outside petitioned for entrance! It’s Sir Palomides and Sir Gaheris, Malory says, as though that’s going to impress us.
“C’mon, Dinadan,” said Tristram. “Those guys want to come in and sleep, they’ll have to beat us in jousts!”
“What? No! Just let them in!”
“It’s the rule of the castle! We beat the other guys, so we’ve got to take on all comers!”
“No! That’s stupid! It was stupid when we were trying to get into the castle and it’s even more stupid now that we’re already in the castle!”
“What kind of knight are you?!”
“The kind that is sore and tired after rescuing your sorry hide from thirty fricking knights this morning!”
For a second it looked like Tristram and Dinadan were going to brawl, right there! But instead, somehow, Dinadan ended up jousting Palomides while Tristram jousted Gaheris. Tristram unseated Gaheris, but Palomides dehorsed Dinadan. Everyone except Dinadan was eager to continue the jousts on foot, in the traditional manner. Dinadan, however, complained of bruises, exhaustion, and played that fought thirty knights earlier today card again. He did not want to play. Tristram took his helmet off and pulled Dinadan aside.
“Dude, just be cool, okay? You are embarrassing me! Can’t you just be cool for once? Dude!”
“Don’t ‘dude’ me, dude. You’re a jerk, Tristram. It’s been a long day. I just want to sleep. This is Launcelot all over again. You know, one time I went on a strange adventure with Launcelot, and he never wanted to rest. It was always ride along, joust a guy, ride some more, joust another guy. At the end of it I needed three months of bed rest! You and Launcelot are two of a kind, you know that? No consideration for the limitations of us mere mortals!”
“Fine, then,” said Tristram, with exaggerated stiffness and wounded pride. “I’ll joust them both myself!”
But Sir Palomides refused to fight Tristram two on one, so it ended up just being the two of them, while Gaheris watched. They jousted for a while, and eventually Tristram grew frustrated and lashed out. Supposedly this was a nonlethal courtesy joust, but Tristram went for the throat! Gaheris and Dinadan had to leap in and pull Tristram off of Palomides. It was as though he were a poorly socialized rescue dog at the dog park who really shouldn’t have been at the dog park and wouldn’t be taken out to a dog park again we could all be confident of that.
Once he calmed down, Tristram agreed that everyone could stay in the castle, at which point Dinadan gave a short speech about how much of a dick Tristram was, how Dinadan wouldn’t stay in the stupid castle, and how he hoped they never met again. Then Dinadan rode away, swearing the whole time.
But Tristram wouldn’t take the hint! He abandoned the castle to Palomides and Gaheris, chasing after Dinadan. “Dinadan! Buddy! Calm down! Aren’t we friends? You’re my Book IX pal! We’re going on a strange adventure together!” Tristram chased Dinadan to a priory a few miles up the road, where they ended up staying overnight.
Meanwhile Palomides and Gaheris met up with the other knights in the area: Bors, Ector, Bleoberis, Driant, and also Sir Launcelot. They hung out at the castle Tristram was all fired up to joust in defense of, drinking, talking, having a good knightly bonding time. Eventually the conversation turned to Tristram, and how great at jousting he was despite being the worst human being ever.
Also staying at the castle: a knight named Sir Pellinore. Not that Pellinore, Malory assures us. A totally different Pellinore. This Pellinore was just a kid; no relation to the Questing Beast, no association with King Pellinore. Kid Pellinore overheard Launcelot and the others talking about how ‘great’ Tristram was (BILL BRASKY!). Kid Pellinore wanted to join in, but not only didn’t he know Tristram, he didn’t even know Tristram’s name. Tristram had been traveling incognito throughout this storyline. All the knights respected omertà, and wouldn’t tell Kid Pellinore.
Kid Pellinore decided that what he really needed to do was prove himself to Launcelot and his entourage of drunken braggarts. In the morning he hopped on a horse and rode up the road to the priory where Dinadan and Tristram had slept. He arrived to find Dinadan still there but Tristram gone; Dinadan had finally successfully convinced Tristram that they were not friends and that Dinadan needed some bedrest after all the crap Tristram had just dragged him through.
Dinadan may have been mad at Tristram, but he was no snitch. He refused to tell Kid Pellinore the name, too. Kid Pellinore announced an intention to ride after Tristram, beat him at a joust, and in that way oblige him to drop his name.
“Beware, for if ye follow him ye shall repent it,” said Dinadan.
“You mean because he’ll beat me when we joust?”
“Enh, that too.”
Kid Pellinore caught up to Tristram, got beaten up, and rode off vowing revenge. (Fun fact! Kid Pellinore would never show up again. Malory forgets to ever have this pan out or go anywhere.)