Tristram wandered aimlessly for a time. Remember when he had some kind of objective? And the semblance of a plot, with Mark and the lovely Isoud and so on? Those were the days, huh?
He heard about a tournament up in the North, organized by King Carados of Scotland (even though he’d been killed like twice already and King Carados and the King of Scotland used to be two different guys) at the Castle of Maidens. He figured it would be good for a laugh, so set out in that direction.
Along the way he bumped into Sir Kay and Sir Sagamore. They wanted to joust with him, but Tristram announced he was saving himself for the tournament, and so declined. Kay didn’t want to take no for an answer, and declared that it would count as a forfeit for official scoring purposes, i.e., Kay Defeats Tristram was how Kay would report it to the recordkeeping body. This pissed Tristram off, but rather than solve his problems with words, Tristram knocked Kay off his horse and rode away in a huff. I suppose if I were a disinterested party, I’d say that Kay had it coming, but man. Tristram’s just such a jerk; I can’t give him any benefit of the doubt. Sir Kay admittedly pulled a handful of jerk moves over the course of Le Morte D’Arthur, but he also had several scenes in which he was inarguably heroic.
Sir Sagamore chased after Tristram, but Tristram just dehorsed him, too.
On his way to the tournament, a random damosel flagged Tristram down. “You got time for a quick side-trek strange adventure?” she asked.
“Maybe, what’s up?”
“There’s this rampaging knight making trouble all over the area. I can lead you to him, you joust him, badda-bing, everyone wins.”
“Sounds good! There’s no reason I wouldn’t be happy to joust whoever this knight is. What’s your name, lady?”
“You can call me Not Morgan le Fay’s Secret Assassin. Wait, no, just call me Trudy.”
“Whatever, Trulee,” said Tristram. He wasn’t really listening.
So Tristram and Trudy rode away together. Before they arrived at wherever Trudy wished to bring Tristram, though, they bumped into Sir Gawaine! Gawaine immediately recognized Trudy as Morgan le Fay’s secret assassin.
“Here comes trouble!” Gawaine cried. “Tristram, where is she taking you?”
“Oh, no way!” Tristram reared back. “You’re not getting any of the glory for my secret mission!”
Gawaine cursed, and drew his sword. “By this point in the book there’s tremendous amounts of precedent for me to stab you, Trudy, even though you’re a damosel. It’s kind of my thing!” he warned her. “So spill!”
“Oh, fine,” said Trudy. “It’s stupid anyway. I’m part of an elite secret society of Gorean maiden/spy/assassins, trained and dispatched by my lady Morgan le Fay to seek out Launcelot and/or Tristram, seduce them if possible, and lead them into the land of Gore and my lady’s clutches where they’ll be put to death by an ambush of, like, thirty guys.”
“Dang,” said Gawaine. “You should be ashamed of yourself! And to think that Morgan is a queen, and Arthur’s sister, and the daughter of a king and a queen! It’s enough to almost make you question the received wisdom that the royals are just better than the rest of us. Rest of you. Arthur’s my uncle.”
Gawaine suggested he and Tristram should go together to hunt down these thirty guys Trudy had described. Tristram was all for it; he and Dinadan had pounded thirty of Morgan’s knights just the day before. He was confident he could manage a follow-up walloping. Gawaine and Tristram abandoned Trudy and made their way to Morgan’s nearest castle, where Gawaine shouted for Morgan to send out her thirty guys, so he and Tristram could beat them up. “Aunt Morgan! Now I know your false treason, and through all the places where that I ride men shall know of your false treason, and now let see whether ye dare come out of your castle ye thirty knights!”
Morgan climbed up to her castle walls and shouted down at Gawaine. “Sir Gawaine, you jackass! I know you pretty well, from back in the day! My guys are not going out to fight you, but it’s got nothing to do with you! You’ve got Sir Tristram standing there next to you, and he’s the second-best knight after Sir Launcelot! If it was just you, I would come down and lead the charge against you myself. You’re a schmuck, Gawaine!”
“Dang.” Gawaine teared up a little. “That’s harsh, Aunt Morgan. You didn’t need to be so mean about it.”
Gawaine and Tristram waited around a while, but nobody came out of the castle, so they gave up and left.
A couple of days later, Tristram bumped into Sir Kay and Sir Sagramour again. Tristram still had Gawaine with him; Kay and Sagramour were happy to see Gawaine, and vice versa, but they just gave Tristram the stink-eye, and vice versa. Despite the bad blood between Tristram and these two, at Gawaine’s suggestion they made a foursome and rode together towards the Castle of the Maidens tournament.
After a few days they stumbled across Pitiless Bruce. Remember Pitiless Bruce? He was assaulting some woman, Malory says.
“Pitiless Bruce! My nemesis!” shouted Gawaine, and signaled for everyone else to hang back. “I’ll take him out myself. It’s him and me. Gawaine and Bruce. We’re going to make this happen!”
Gawaine charged Pitiless Bruce, shouting for him to quit assaulting the woman and face a joust.
Pitiless Bruce started to flee, but then he figures out that the other knights were hanging back and he only had to deal with Sir Gawaine, so he just dehorsed Gawaine and started riding his horse back and forth on top of him.
After about the twentieth time Pitiless Bruce had run over Gawaine, trampling him to near death, Tristram finally decided to intervene. (I am not exaggerating for comic effect, here. Tristram was just that much of a dick.) Pitiless Bruce fled as Tristram approached, and Tristram gives chase, abandoning Sir Gawaine to his Camelot buddies. He chased Bruce over hill and dale, eventually losing him.
“Enh,” said Tristram, and stopped at a well to water his horse. He’d lost Kay and Gawaine and Sagramour, but what did he care? He washed his face, then lay down for a nap. Just as he dozed off, along came Dame Bragwaine! You remember: the lovely Isoud’s Irish handmaiden/henchwoman. Bragwaine had been looking for Tristram ever since he left Cornwall. Unfortunately, she hadn’t seen him in several weeks; she couldn’t really remember what he looked like, and had forgotten him as in remembrance of Sir Tristram. But never fear! She may not have recognized Tristram when she saw him, but by his horse she knew him. That’s right, Tristram’d had the same horse this whole time, apparently, and Bragwaine considered that horse as an intimate. The horse’s name was Passe-Brewel, which is an awful name for a horse.
You may wonder how, exactly, Tristram’d managed to hold onto the same horse over the course of his various misadventures in Book VIII and Book IX up to this point, including multiple shipwrecks. Malory has an answer for you! He anticipated this particular continuity complaint: Sir Fergus kept him. Whenever Tristram had been in a situation where he would logically have lost his horse, such as, say, when he was mad in the forest, boom, there was Sir Fergus with the horse-caretaking.
Bragwaine recognized Passe-Brewel, so she waited patiently for Tristram to wake up,. If she tried to shake him awake she figured he’ll probably whip out his sword and kill her before he was fully conscious. Once he finally woke up, some hours later, she waved and reminded him who she was. Bragwaine revealed her motivation for seeking Tristram: she bore letters from the lovely Isoud.
Tristram took the letters and read them. They were full of many a piteous complaint about Tristram not visiting, which is ironic inasmuch as it had been the lovely Isoud’s idea for Tristram to leave Cornwall in the first place.
Tristram composed a plan. “Okay, here’s the deal, Bragwaine. You come with me to the big tournament at the Castle of Maidens. After I’ve won that I’ll sit down and write Isoud a nice letter about how I won, and how great I am. You can take that letter back to Cornwall.”
Malory let us know that Gouvernail, Tristram’s tutor/manservant, was pretty pleased by this announcement, since he and Bragwaine had been having a low-key affair since sometime in the middle of Book VIII. Bragwaine’s response was not recorded. Also, after an absence that stretched back to well before Tristram’s year of madness, Gouvernail was back. I don’t know why Bragwaine didn’t recognize him.
Tristram, Gouvernail, and Bragwaine rode towards the Castle of Maidens. They put in for the night at a lodge, where Tristram met Old Sir Pellounes. Old Sir Pellounes was too aged to participate in the tournament, but he looked forward to seeing it regardless. He told Tristram a confusing story about Sir Launcelot and a bunch of Benwick knights showing up with Cornish shields. Also, Old Sir Pellounes’s son, Sir Persides, stopped by to visit his father.
Sir Persides started to introduce himself to Tristram, but Tristram interrupted and told a story about how they’ve already met. He didn’t give his name, but merely recited their shared history: apparently they jousted once over who got the last room at a lodge that was full up for the night? Persides didn’t remember it, so Tristram tried to jog his memory by reminding Persides that Tristram was Cornish.
“Cornish, huh? Then you must know that jerk Sir Tristram?” cried Persides.
“Mmmmmaybe,” Tristram said cautiously. Sometime in the last few chapters he’d learned a little bit of discretion, I guess.
“I was visiting Castle Tintagil and the court of King Mark. This was a while back. I took on all comers! I defeated ten Cornish knights, just for laughs! Everyone agreed I was awesome, and then Sir Tristram showed up and beat me three jousts in a row, and ran off with my wife.”
“Yes, of course.” Tristram chuckled to himself. “Heh, she was a firecracker.”
“Oh, you’ve heard of her?”
“Yeah. Anyway, I totally grasp why you’d hate Sir Tristram.”
“Well, now, hate’s a strong word. He’s the best knight except for Sir Launcelot, a noble knight and a much better knight than I, yet I shall not owe him my goodwill.”
“Yeah, that Tristram’s a pretty amazing knight,” agreed Tristram. He and Persides walked around the lodge for a bit, eventually hitting up a bay window that gave a nice view of the road leading up to the Castle of the Maidens and the nearby tournament field.
“Who’s that knight all in black?” asked Tristram, pointing. “He’s pretty clearly way higher-level than the rest of these scrub knights around him. Is that Launcelot?”
“Nah, it’s one of the best knights.”
Tristram thought of ‘the best knights’ as a category including just himself and Launcelot. “Then it is Sir Launcelot.”
“Nope,” said Sir Persides. “It’s Sir Palomides, Tristram’s easily-thwarted nemesis!”
Then there’s this scene I’m just going to skip over, in which Sir Persides, Sir Tristram and Sir Palomides got together for some pre-tournament jousting. Sir Palomides managed to reveal that he recognized Sir Tristram and had a good laugh at his expense, without revealing Tristram’s identity to Sir Persides. “We’ll pick this up tomorrow at the tournament,” chortled Palomides.
Afterwards Tristram bumped into Sir Dinadan, Tristram’s once and future reluctant sidekick. Dinadan saw that Tristram’s run-in with Palomides had left him grumpy, and tried to cheer him up. “Lo, here may a man prove, be a man never so good yet may he have a fall, and he was never so wise but he might be overseen, and he rideth well that never fell. These things happen, Tristram, it doesn’t make you any less of a knight.”
“Screw that,” grumbled Tristram. “I will revenge me on Palomides, that jerk.”
But before our hero took any action, he had to spend sufficient time admiring Sir Launcelot. Launcelot jousted several knights anonymously, wearing a Cornish tabard (I guess he was grinding rep with Tintagil). Alongside Sir Palomides, Launcelot smote Sir Hew and Sir Madok. A dozen other guys from Northgalis mobbed him all at once while he was trying to get a drink, showing no respect for jousting etiquette! Launcelot killed or maimed the dozen guys, just to show ’em. Sadly Launcelot would end up sitting out the first day of the tournament, Malory tells us, as a result of all this pretournament action. He hung out in the skybox with Arthur, instead.
(THE CASTLE OF THE MAIDENS: JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 22!)
Highlights of the first day: Tristram and Persides entered into a big multisided melee as a two-man team. They fought a bunch of other two-man teams, most notably Sir Gaheris (Gawaine’s brother) and Sir Bleoberis (Launcelot’s cousin); Tristram was severely disadvantaged when Persides was trampled nearly to death by twenty teams of knights (forty horses, or a hundred and sixty hooves). My old favorite, the King with a Hundred Knights, aka Mister 100, gave Gaheris and Bleoberis new horses after Tristram dehorsed them both. Sir Dinadan, who wasn’t technically on Tristram’s team, saw an opening and tried to sneak-attack Tristram! Vengeance for forcing him to sidekick against his will!
But Tristram saw it coming and knocked Dinadan down. Dinadan apologized and promised never to do that again.
Tristram won the day’s prize. He fought anonymously, because Launcelot was doing it, so he was known popularly as the Knight with the Black Shield.
Day Two of the tournament. To make a stupidly long story slightly shorter: the knights divided into two teams, Arthur’s team and Northgalis’s team. Sir Palomides joined Arthur’s team, so out of spite Sir Tristram joined Northgalis’s. Blah blah blah, then Sir Tristram came in, and began so roughly and so bigly that there was none that might withstand him, which sounds cool but Malory just has to unpack and unpack. There’s a long list of all the knights that Tristram beat; it’s basically a bunch of Camelot’s second-stringers. Sir Ector-the-Lesser, Sir Bors Junior, and so on. Tristram’s biggest get is Sir Kay, whom Tristram soundly trounced despite Kay being explicitly the best out of a whole wad of forty of Arthur’s knights.
Sir Launcelot and all of his cousins fought while wearing shields with Cornish heraldry instead of Benwick or Camelot heraldry. No explanation is provided for this; Malory mentions it several times, then drops it. Launcelot almost singled out Tristram, because he was fighting too hard and not using sporting nonlethal tactics I think, but changed his mind because Tristram was just too awesome; Sir Launcelot could only stand by and watch and marvel at how great Tristram is.
Then Mister 100 finally shone! True to his name, he led a force of a hundred knights against Launcelot and twenty other Benwick knights. Tristram saw how great the Benwick knights fought, but instead of joining in, he rode over to Mister 100 and complained that it was unsporting to fight when you outnumbered the opposition five to one like that.
Mister 100 did the classy thing, said something about how for evermore a good knight will favor another and pulled his boys back.
For no clear reason, Tristram bugged out at the end of the second day the tournament. He’d caught Launcelot’s eye, but Launcelot lost track of him. Sir Dinadan and Gouvernail went too, but no one cared about them. Dame Bragwaine, sitting with Guenever, had to excuse herself and go looking for Tristram. Also Arthur had planned to give the Day Two prize to Tristram again, but with him gone, ended up giving it to the King of Northgalis instead.
Everybody else at the Castle of the Maidens tournament cried into their beer about how much better Tristram was than they could ever hope to be. Only Bragwaine would take action! She searched the woods and soon found him. Turns out he was just searching the woods too, looking for Sir Palomides. Palomides had also skipped out on the tournament. Bragwaine found him first, in fact, but then found Tristram and pointed the way to Palomides.
Palomides sulked. That’s what he did. He sulked by a well out in the middle of the woods, where he berated himself for losing to Tristram every time they went up against one another (even though Palomides had defeated Tristram when they jousted on the eve of the tournament). He made many strange signs and tokens, which I think is Malory’s way of reminding us that he was Muslim and also that Malory knows jack about Islamic practices. Eventually, he worked himself up into such a sullen frenzy that he threw his sword down the well and tried to dive in after it!
Fortunately, I guess, Tristram intervened and snatched him before he did any serious self-harm. Tristram continued to wear his ‘Knight with a Black Shield disguise,’ and Palomides didn’t see through it. Which is maybe a little odd, since two days earlier when Tristram had worn the exact same disguise Palomides had penetrated it easily. Somehow, anyway, Tristram talked Palomides down. Palomides felt very sorry for himself, because he was actually a very good knight but Sir Tristram kept showing him up. Sir Launcelot and Sir Lamorak also defeated him regularly, though they didn’t bother Palomides as much. He was, by his own estimation, the fourth-best knight in Arthurian Britain! That really ought to have counted for something, yet Palomides got no respect.
Tristram invited Palomides back to Old Sir Pellounes’s place for dinner. He sent Gouvernail on ahead to clear it with him and Sir Persides (and warn them that Tristram would appear in disguise, which makes no sense inasmuch as Sir Persides also didn’t know Tristram is Tristram, and in fact hated Tristram, according Malory). That night they drank! Tristram and Persides made an effort to cheer up Palomides, which effort was at best partially successful. Early the next morning they headed back to the Castle of Maidens, for the third and final day of the tournament.
I can’t say I believe Tristram’s motivation, here. He’s well-established as a jerk, plus a few chapters back Palomides had managed to unhorse him and Tristram vowed vengeance. “I will revenge myself,” he’d said. He’d even joined up with the non-Arthur side in the tournament just because Palomides had been on the Camelot side! And then he turned around and acts like Superman, or Captain “Shazam!” Marvel, another hero often derided for his compassion and gentle nature? I just don’t buy it, Malory. This was way more compassionate and empathetic than Tristram had been up to this point, or would be later on.
Maybe Tristram just liked to make friends with knights who hated him, using an assumed identity. Then later he would reveal that Sir Guy Incognito, the best man at Sir Persides’s wedding, had actually been Persides’s hated foe Sir Tristram all along! And then: volcano duel!
Did you think we were done with the jousting fanfiction? Nope! Malory’s account of the third day of the Castle of the Maidens tournament is full of it. Let me sum it up for you.
Blah blah Mister 100 smote Carados blah blah Northgalis smote Anguish blah blah Arthur smote Mister 100 with Palomides’s help blah blah Tristram and Arthur jousted blah blah Palomides interrupted their joust blah blah Mister 100 gave Palomides a new horse blah blah Tristram learned the hard way you can’t beat King Arthur, his name is on the spine of the book, but everyone still stood around marveling at how great Tristram was regardless.
Launcelot and Tristram jousted, finally, at the conclusion of the day’s events. Sir Launcelot nearly killed Tristram, who fled in shame. Launcelot did not pursue, so Sir Dinadan had to do it. When he caught up, Dinadan fretted that Tristram would die of his wounds, but Tristram insisted he was okay. And he turned out to be well enough to handle Sir Palomides one more time. Palomides pursued Tristram into the woods, too. When he founds him, Palomides demanded a joust! And that happened. Even with all his health boxes checked off, Tristram still defeated Palomides easily.
Sir Gaheris passed by, on his way somewhere.
“Oi! Gaheris! I bet you want to avenge Palomides!” shouted Tristram. “Whom I just defeated despite my wounds!”
“What? No. Sir Tristram, is that you? What’s this about?” asked Gaheris, and then Tristram dehorsed him and smacked him around a bit. Eventually Tristram declared a TKO against Gaheris, and left. Gaheris would never learn what the heck that had been about.
He and Dinadan ended up lodging with an old man, Sir Darras, who’d sent his five sons to the tournament. Happy reunion when all five of them survived and returned home that same night!
As the Castle of the Maidens tournament wound to a close, Arthur and Launcelot got into a surprisingly heated argument about who rightfully won the tournament: Arthur said Launcelot, but Launcelot said the prize should be given to Tristram. Arthur admitted Tristram deserved special recognition for his jousting prowess, listing off a bunch of Tristram’s most heroic deeds. After going through all the trouble of establishing Tristram as fighting anonymously, Malory totally forgets about that here. Everyone at the castle searched for Tristram, but couldn’t find him or his de facto sidekick, Sir Dinadan.
They did find Gaheris, who told everyone about Tristram’s defeat of Palomides. And that was despite his wounds! Arthur clucked his tongue and muttered about how Palomides shouldn’t have tried to pick a fight with a wounded knight, and it served him right to lose in a humiliating fashion.
Then Arthur threw a party, perhaps because Malory wanted to end the story of the Castle of Maidens tournament on a high note?