As this story opens, we see a sinking ship. Sir Lamorak, the knight who had turned Morgan le Fay’s drinking-horn over to King Mark, was on that. Where he had been going and why didn’t matter! Everyone except Lamorak drowned, but Lamorak himself was fished out of the water by some guys from the Isle of Servage. They took him back there, and hid him in a fishing hut to recuperate. But for Lamorak this was out of the frying pan, into the fire; Servage was a pretty dire place.
The lord of the island was a giant named Sir Nabon the Black. Nabon, as you might guess from his name and his being a giant, was a right villain, Malory assures us. He hated King Arthur and all his knights. In fact, just a little while back one of Arthur’s knights had visited the island, Sir Nanowne the Short, and Nabon’d ripped him to pieces. That’s no idiom: literally, pieces of Sir Nanowne had flown in all directions!
“Whoa!” said Sir Lamorak when he heard about this. “Sir Nanowne was my cousin. I hadn’t heard from him in a while, but I had no idea he was dead! And this guy killed him? Man, that about takes the biscuit. If I wasn’t half-drowned I’d go give this Sir Nabon a piece of my mind!”
“Ssh!” said the fishermen. “Stay on the down-low, and get off this island as soon as you’re well. Otherwise Sir Nabon will tear us apart for helping you.”
“That’s not how I roll,” insisted Lamorak. “Somebody messes with King Arthur (by proxy), he messes with me! Just as soon as I can walk again, boom, I’m taking this Nabon out.”
One day King Tristram of Brittany, his wife Isoud the White, and her brother Sir Kehydius who kind of sucked, all went for a little sailing trip, just for fun. They had only a little skiff, meant for skirting along the coast, but in a storm they ended up wrecked on the Isle of Servage, implausible though that sounds. With their ship smashed and Isoud the White injured, things seemed bleak. They found themselves on a benighted stretch of beach, with no help in sight. Tristram led Kehydius and Isoud the White into the island’s forested interior.
There a second implausible thing occurred! Tristram and his companions bumped into Sir Segwarides, the cuckolded husband.
“Tristram!” he cried. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, hey, that’s Sir Segwarides, the knight with plenty of reason to hate me, since I seduced his wife. But you know, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve decided the true villain of the piece is my wife. She completely lacks honor; you can tell because she isn’t even a knight!”
“Cool,” said Tristram. “I don’t know you, but I’m glad you aren’t attacking me.”
“You seem to be in a bad way,” Segwarides observed. “Let me help you out.”
Segwarides brought Tristram (and his wife and brother-in-law) to a lady thereby that was born in Cornwall. Let’s call her Jenna. Jenna sat Tristram down and explained the whole Isle of Servage political situation in a long expository monologue: it was in rebellion from Arthur’s court; its ruler Sir Nabon hated Arthur and his knights; Nabon tore any knight found on Servage literally into pieces.
“Listen, Jenna,” said Tristram. “I have been a knight for most of Book VIII. I killed Sir Marhaus. I defeated Sir Blamore (Launcelot’s relative). I defeated Sir Palomides and a bunch of other knights also. I beat Earl Grip and so many others. I can handle whatever life throws at me. I promise I will defeat this jerk Sir Nabon, you hear?”
“Mmm, well, maybe you and the other knight should team up,” said Jenna. Seeing Tristram’s confusion she explained. “One of Arthur’s knights was found in a shipwreck. We’ve been nursing him back towards health, but he’s very grumpy.”
“What’s his name?” Tristram asked, secretly hoping it was Sir Gawaine or Sir Kay. Those two kept getting themselves into scrapes.
“He won’t say,” said Jenna. “Which is really annoying, actually. We’re starting to wonder if he’s really a knight at all.”
“Hmm. If we can meet up, I can identify him, if he’s one of Arthur’s knights,” said Tristram. “I’ve spent some time in Camelot. Well, camped outside, but it amounted to the same thing.”
And so Jenna arranged for Sir Lamorak to visit her home disguised as a wounded fisherman. When appeared the next morning, Tristram recognized him instantly. But for whatever reason, Sir Lamorak didn’t recognize Sir Tristram.
“We meet again,” said Tristram.
“Do I know you?” asked Lamorak.
“Oh yeah, you do.”
“Oh, I get it.” Lamorak’s eyes widened. “You’re that jerk, Sir Nabon the Black, aren’t you? Villain!”
“What? No! I was just promising Jenna here I’d defeat him! Jeez!”
This conversation continued in this vein for far longer than it needed to. Eventually Lamorak determined that Tristram (who wasn’t disguised or anything) was in fact Tristram. Together they recalled how Lamorak gave Mark the magical drinking-horn, which Tristram still saw as a deliberate insult. Lamorak refused to apologize; he said he hadn’t done it out of hatred of Tristram or indeed for anyone at Mark’s court. If there was going to be discord at someone’s court over infidelity, Lamorak just would have rather it been Castle Tintagil over Camelot.
“Well, it ended up not being that big a deal,” said Tristram “So let’s set that aside for now and talk Nabon.”
Lamorak was impressed by Tristram’s bigness of spirit in releasing the grudge, and apologized after all.
It turned out that Sir Nabon is not that bad a guy, really. He threw a big jousting tournament to celebrate the knighting of his son, Sir Nabon Junior, and hundreds of knights (from North Wales and other regions inimical to Arthur’s rule) showed up to participate (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 21!). Jenna brought Sir Tristram, Sir Lamorak, Sir Segwarides, Sir Kehydius to the tournament, for fear of what would have happened if she didn’t. Nabon discovered them, of course, but when he did, he treated them as guests. He even lent arms and armor to Sir Lamorak, who’d lost all his stuff in the shipwreck, and invited Lamorak to participate in the tournament.
Lamorak did participate in the tournament, despite still convalescing from the shipwreck, and won. Afterwards, Nabon himself wanted to joust with Lamorak. Lamorak was pretty well beat by this point, but Nabon wouldn’t take no for an answer.
So they lined up to joust, and then Nabon pulled a dirty trick and killed Lamorak’s horse out from under him. This was verboten under standard tournament rules; you were supposed to knock your opponent off the horse, not just straight-up murder the horse. But Nabon was the local lord and also he had a rep for ripping people into pieces, so everyone let it slide. Lamorak fought him on foot for a while, but Nabon had the upper hand.
Once Lamorak was down, Nabon raised his sword, then paused and laughed. “Fair fellow!” he cried. “What a game we’ve played.” He lowered his sword. “Here, take my hand; I’ll help you up. You’ve impressed us all this day with your knightliness.”
“Well, thank you,” said Lamorak. He let Nabon help him up.
“Of course, I just defeated you, so I’m even more knightly. Right? Say yes.”
Lamorak, winded and sore and maybe thinking about how Nabon rips people in pieces with his bare hands, smiled awkwardly and muttered a yes.
“Ha ha!” laughed Nabon. He had a huge, booming Brian Blessed laugh. “Now, is there anyone else willing to joust me? I didn’t think so. Cake and punch for all, in the –“
“I’ll do it!” interrupted Tristram, in the back. “I’ll joust you! I just need to borrow armor and arms and a horse from someone.”
Nabon was nonplussed for a moment, but agreed to lend Tristram the various pieces of equipment he needed.
They mounted up, but at the last second Tristram dismounted. After watching the bout with Lamorak, he figured Nabon would just murder his horse, if Tristram came at him mounted. “Let’s do this on foot!” he shouted.
Nabon shrugged, and dismounted. The two of them sword-fought for a while.
“You’re pretty good, you know that?” Nabon shouted after a few minutes. “What’s your name, my friend?”
“I am Sir Tristram of Liones and Brittany!”
“You don’t say! I’ve heard of you. Good things, too. I’ve been wanting to joust you.” He lowered his sword and whispered conspiratorially. “You and Sir Launcelot, you’re my wish-list…”
Nabon would have said more, but just then Sir Tristram took advantage of Nabon’s distraction and lopped his head off.
Then, quick like a bunny before anyone else could react, Tristram dashed over to Sir Nabon Junior and lopped his head off, too.
Everyone in the audience was stunned.
“Whoa,” they said. “I mean, yikes. Well, okay. Tournament over, I guess. All hail King Tristram of the Isle of Servage?”
“No no no,” said Tristram. “I may have just executed your lord in the middle of an explicitly nonlethal bout, and killed his son wholly without provocation in preemptive self-defense, since he would have tried to avenge his dad. But I’m not going to stick around and rule y’all. That’d just be weird. Besides, I’ve already got Brittany. Sir Lamorak should become the king here. He essentially won the tournament, after all.”
“Oh, no!” cried Sir Lamorak. “No, no no. I’m not sticking around this dump either. Don’t foist it on me!”
“Well, fine then, I’ll just appoint someone who doesn’t deserve it,” snapped Tristram.
“I don’t deserve it!” said Sir Segwarides, raising his hand.
“Crap, can I… I wasn’t ready,” protested Sir Kehydius. “I don’t deserve it either!”
“Too late,” said Tristram. “Sir Segwarides, by the power invested in me on account of I slew Sir Nabon and straight-up murdered Sir Nabon Junior, I name you master of the Isle of Servage!”
Tristram, Kehydius, and Isoud the White returned to Brittany afterwards. Segwarides stuck around on Servage for a while. He instituted a series of reforms, freeing prisoners and paying back taxes to Arthur. Eventually all was in order, and he returned to his home in Cornwall. There Segwarides told Mark and the lovely Isoud (and everyone else in Castle Tintagil) all about Isle of Servage and the strange adventure. Everyone marveled at Tristram’s awesomeness! The lovely Isoud cried a little when she heard that Tristram hadn’t yet abandoned Isoud the White.