Sir Palomides had a problem, and that problem was named Sir Tristram. Tristram, just the fact of him out there, ate at Palomides. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t make sensible conversation. He couldn’t ride straight, even. With the Castle of Maidens tournament over, Sir Palomides had departed, but crossing a ford his horse slipped due to his distracted riding. Palomides’s horsemanship was so poor he simply alit from the saddle and continued on foot, and leaving his horse to drown. This was the Arthurian equivalent of smashing your car into someone’s parked car, totaling them both, then getting out of your car and running away on foot. It’s not sensible, and then the guy whose car you wrecked has to deal with the fallout. And maybe that car had just one payment left on it and had just had its big midlife maintenance done and had just been swapped to a new insurance provider making for a real nightmare headache of paperwork. Plus shopping for a replacement car becomes an exercise in frustration because my wife and I are 6’4″ and 4’11” respectively which means very few cars fit us both comfortably and we end up with a 2012 model of the same car they’d had in 2008 form, which doesn’t feel like anywhere near enough of a step up to justify all the bother.
Sir Palomides didn’t care, the jerk. He sat down on the riverbank, watching his horse drown and just sobbed and complained about how he didn’t deserve any of this.
Along came yet another damosel! Let’s call her Margarita.
Margarita sought Sir Mordred on behalf of Sir Gawaine. Gawaine was concerned because Mordred had missed out on the Castle of Maidens tournament. It turns out, Malory forgot to mention this but back in just before the tournament, while Tristram and Palomides had been giving one another the hairy eyeball, Tristram’s sidekick of the moment, Sir Persides, had wandered off. Persides’d bumped into Sir Mordred, like you do, and they’d jousted a little pre-tournament joust, like you do. Persides walloped Mordred quite well, and maybe would have just laughed and left him to die, but then Mordred protested that he was Sir Gawaine’s kid brother, and that Sir Gawaine, as we all know, was King Arthur’s nephew! So Persides had better not just let Mordred die, was what Mordred was saying.
And so Persides had taken Mordred to Sir Darras’s place, the same lodge where he and Tristram had entertained Palomides on the second night of tournament, and left him there to convalesce. As a result, Mordred’d missed the tournament entirely. Gawaine heard about that, got worried, and sent Margarita to find him.
“Anyway, Mordred. Have you seen him?” asked Margarita.
“Go to hell,” roared Palomides. He had better things to think about than Margarita and her silly errands.
“Push off! Nobody cares what you want, you lousy damosel!”
Margarita gasped. She was not accustomed to being spoken to in that manner! She gave Palomides a chance to apologize, but instead he hucked a tomato at her! She stormed off, which was pretty reasonable.
As it happens, her next stop was Darras’s lodge, where she found three knights just lounging around: Sir Mordred, Sir Tristram, and Sir Dinadan. Mordred and Tristram were both badly wounded, and Dinadan didn’t have much going on in his life. Margarita passed along the message to Mordred, but mostly she was interested in trash-talking the incredibly rude knight whom she had met along the road.
“Hmm, what was his name?” asked Tristram.
“He didn’t say, he was too busy being unpleasant,” said Margarita.
“He had a shield, right? What kind of heraldry was on it?”
She gestured vaguely. “A shield, you know? It was indented with white and black.”
From this detailed description (which doesn’t match the description Malory gave Palomides’s outfit during the tournament, when he had a black-covered shield) Tristram correctly identified the rogue knight. “That was Sir Palomides, the good knight. For well I know him for one of the best knights living in this realm.”
Dinadan did a spit-take, because come on Tristram you and Palomides had been going at like cats and dogs for what feels like hundreds of pages. You kept beating him and he hated you and why the hell were you, an established jerk, going so far out of your way to be nice?
Old Sir Darras took a cart out to pick Palomides up and bring him back to the lodge for dinner, again. Tristram pranked Palomides by pretending he had already healed the bad wound he got from Launcelot, for some reason. For some additional reason, Tristram and Palomides and Dinadan all had dinner together. Whenever Tristram was out of earshot, Palomides turned to Dinadan and talked smack about him, how badly Palomides planned on beating him next time they fought, et cetera.
“I marvel that ye boast behind Sir Tristram[‘s back] like that,” said Dinadan. “I mean, you and he fought just yesterday and even though he’d lost a bout with Launcelot, and a lot of blood, he still beat you.”
And Palomides did not have a retort to that one.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Arthur and Launcelot continued their argument from end of the last story. “No one in the Castle of Maidens has seen hide or hair of Tristram since you nearly killed him at the climax of the tournament,” worried Arthur. “Maybe he wandered off somewhere and bled to death! Then we’re out a first-tier, AAA-rating knight.”
“Boss, I get that you blame me for his departition, but Lord knows I think the world of Sir Tristram.” Launcelot considered. “He’s a jerk, sure. One might even call him a horrible human being. A monster who acts like a knight and doesn’t do a very good job of it.”
Arthur looked at him expectantly.
Launcelot struggled to bring this one home. “But who isn’t the bad guy from time to time?”
“Me,” said Arthur.
“Okay, sure. But the rest of us are mortal sinners.”
Arthur smiled. “You’re pretty much a hero, too, buddy.”
“I could tell you stories! I’m not the chaste platonic hero I insist I am whenever people bring up my relationship with…” But then Launcelot remembered to whom he was speaking, and threw up his hands. “But for serious! He’s done me more than one good turn, in adventures that Malory has declined to describe. But when men be hot in deeds of arms oft they hurt their friends as well as their foes. If he is bleeding to death somewhere, I’ll find him! In fact, I’ll do better than that!”
And Launcelot called in the Tristram Rescue Squad, consisting of Sir Launcelot and ten knights. They swore on the Bible to find him and bring him to Camelot, or die trying.
TRISTRAM RESCUE SQUAD ROLL CALL!
Sir Launcelot! (best at everything)
Sir Ector-the-Lesser! (Launcelot’s younger brother-or-cousin)
Sir Bors Junior! (Launcelot’s first cousin)
Sir Bleoberis! (Sir Bors’s brother)
Sir Blamore! (Sir Bors’s other brother)
Sir Lucan! (Kay’s first assistant caterer)
Sir Uwaine! (Morgan le Fay’s son)
Sir Lionel! (Launcelot’s other younger brother-or-cousin)
And the rest! (Sir Galihud and Sir Galiodin, a couple of serious backbenchers)
Numbers mean something different to Malory than to you or me, because the set “Launcelot and ten knights” was actually Launcelot plus nine other knights. Some editions of Malory will go further, and claim that Galihud and Lionel are the same guy, Sir Galihud Lionel. Aside from being the result of some dubious punctuation, this would just compound the problem by turning “Launcelot and ten knights” into Launcelot plus eight other knights.
The Tristram Rescue Squad loaded up and rode out! They traveled as a unit until they came to a crossroads, where they split up and traveled four different ways. Malory, as per usual, wants to examine each TRISTRAM RESCUE SQUAD member’s strange adventure one at a time. First up: Sir Launcelot, the wisest and the best.
Sir Launcelot picked up Dame Bragwaine by the side of the road (she was still under the lovely Isoud’s instructions to follow Tristram) and together they encountered Pitiless Bruce! Pitiless Bruce had been chasing Bragwaine around, being a dick. Launcelot settled his hash — he just waved his sword and shouts, and Pitiless Bruce fled.
But Malory is already tired of the TRISTRAM RESCUE SQUAD because now we skip over everyone else’s adventures and cut straight to the knight who actually finds Tristram, Sir Lucan.
Sir Lucan (former caterer, Malory reminds us) was the member of the Tristram Rescue Squad who found Tristram. Funny story, says Malory, it wasn’t as if Lucan had a special lead on Tristram. No, by fortune he put in at Sir Darras’s lodge in none other intent but to ask for harbour. It just so happened Tristram was there, convalescing from his wounds.
Lucan told Darras’s porter he wanted a place for the night, which as a Knight of the Round Table he was entitled to. The porter ran to tell Darras (and Tristram, and Sir Daname, Darras’s nephew).
“He’s a knight of the Round Table? Don’t give him a room!” Sir Daname jumped up and down, he was so excited. “Don’t let him in, no, just, just, just, just…”
“Have him wait outside and then I’ll joust him and it’ll be so awesome!!” Daname was extremely into the idea of jousting a Knight of the Round Table. I think that perhaps he thought he would win the joust and then the knight would be so impressed by Daname that he would get invited to join the Round Table and meet Nimue and King Arthur and Sir Kay and everybody?
But it was not to be. Lucan smacked Daname around until Daname ran crying back into the lodge. Malory doesn’t provide an age for Sir Daname, I feel like I should point out.
“You guys are not being very polite!” Lucan shouted, out in the yard.
Dinadan turned to Tristram and grumbled something about how this is a dumb situation; there was no reason for Lucan to have to joust anybody. Tristram then demanded Dinadan go out and joust with Lucan, as a favor to Darras. Dinadan would rather not, but in a twist, he did as he was told. Though they were both Knights of the Round Table (I suspect Malory has forgotten that he claimed Dinadan was a Round Table knight back when he was introduced) Lucan knocked him around some, eventually stabbing him in the leg! At which point Lucan gave up trying to get a room for the night, and just left.
“Nobody abuses my sidekick except me! And maybe Palomides!” Despite his injuries, Tristram chased down Lucan. Lucan didn’t recognize Tristram, maybe because they’d never met before. They jousted, Tristram severely injured Lucan despite his own fearsome injuries, it was a whole thing. Lucan getting injured upset Sir Uwaine! Did Malory forget to mention Sir Uwaine had also been there? Well, he was.
Tristram knew Sir Uwaine by reputation and wasn’t very interested in fighting, but Uwaine wanted to avenge Lucan the way Tristram had wanted to avenge Dinadan and Dinadan’d wanted (not really) to avenge Daname. Daname’s overenthusiasm bears the blame for this whole escalating mess, if you ask me.
So they jousted, too, and Tristram won. Uwaine and Lucan limped back to Castle Ganis aka Sir Bleoberis’s castle, aka TRISTRAM RESCUE SQUAD HQ; in fact Uwaine and Lucan never found out the wounded knight who smacked them around was the same knight they swore an oath to rescue. So everybody continued to search for Tristram, not knowing they’d already found him.
Afterwards Dinadan was pretty grouchy about the whole thing; he wanted to go ride down Sir Lucan and finish the job Tristram started. To stop him, Tristram apologized, for once; he’d let everything get out of hand and there had been enough bloodshed for the day. Maybe Tristram was growing as a person? Is that what we’re supposed to think? I count that’s what we’re supposed to think.
They returned to Darras’s place, getting there just ahead of a fresh damosel. Said damosel had a message: remember how back at the end of the Castle of the Maidens tournament when all five of Darras’s sons survived? Update on that, in fact they had all died. Well, three of them died, and the other two languished in critical condition.
“This is the worst continuity error ever,” said Darras. “Who is responsible for this editorial blunder that slew my boys?”
“The mysterious knight with a black shield,” the damosel said helpfully. “It looked like that shield there,” she added, pointing to Tristram’s shield. “Yep. That same is he who slew your three sons.”
Things take a turn! When Tristram and Dinadan came back in, Darras clapped them in irons. Also Sir Palomides, for some reason: all three of them, boom, into the dungeon.
I feel sorry for Sir Dinadan in this situation, even if he had wanted to go murder Lucan a few paragraphs up; Tristram kept dragging him into these horrible situations. Plus Palomides and Tristram spent the first day or week in the dungeon, some indeterminate amount of time, bickering like an old married couple, of old hate betwixt them. That couldn’t have been fun to put up with. Then Tristram’s wound became infected, and Palomides felt sorry for him.
Malory would like us all to know that being in prison sucks, but being sick in prison is the worst thing ever, and he should know. For all the while a prisoner may have his health of body he may endure under the mercy of God and in hope of good deliverance; but when sickness toucheth a prisoner’s body, then may a prisoner say all wealth is him bereft, and then he hath cause to wail and weep. Right so did Sir Tristram when sickness had undertaken him, for then he took such sorrow that he had almost slain himself.