Book IX opens with an unrelated story, the Tale of the Knight with the Ill-Fitting Suit. We’ll discuss that one in a later volume; this volume is the story of Tristram de Liones, the jerk.
With this tale we turn back to the kingdom of Brittany, where Sir Tristram de Liones had become King Tristram de Brittany, husband of Queen Isoud the White. But all was not well, in Tristram’s kingdom: he received a series of alarming letters from the lovely Isoud in Cornwall.
“Darling Tristram,” they mostly read, under the tear-stains. “Why not come visit me in Cornwall? I miss you ever so much! You could bring your wife along; I’m sure we will be the best of friends, what with our having the same name, both loving you, and also we’re both skilled surgeons. I certainly wouldn’t murder her to reclaim your love!”
Tristram called in his brother-in-law, Sir Kehydius. “Hey, Sir Useless…”
“Whatever. I’m thinking of taking a trip to Cornwall, strictly on the down-low. You in?”
Kehydius was indeed in! He, Tristram, Tristram’s manservant Gouvernail, Isoud the White, and Dame Bragwaine (who couriered over the lovely Isoud’s letters) all piled into a cog and set out for Cornwall.
Malory loves him contrivances, so just like the last two times Tristram had tried to sail anywhere, their ship was blown way off course, and wrecked, this time in North Wales. The ship was badly damaged, beached in the middle of nowhere. Supplies and morale were low.
“Clearly standing here like dips won’t solve our problems. I’m going to scout around,” said Tristram. “This part of the countryside is sick with strange adventures. If I don’t come back in ten days, make for Cornwall overland without me.”
“I’m going with you,” said Kehydius.
“Whatever. Just stay out of my way.” Tristram was full of pepper! He rode into the forest with Kehydius close behind (yes there were horses aboard the cog shut up), and stumbled across a knight lounging by the road, looking glum. It was Sir Lamorak, but for whatever contrived reason, Tristram didn’t recognize him. You can’t say that he was wearing a face-concealing helmet, because Malory specifies that Tristram saw Lamorak seemed by his countenance to be passing heavy. And it had been established that Lamorak and Tristram were fairly well-acquainted. Possibly Tristram was face-blind.
“Ho, knight!” said Tristram without preamble. “Wanna joust? Let’s joust!”
Lamorak glanced up, but said nothing. He didn’t recognize Tristram either, and he’s never met Kehydius. To Lamorak these guys were just more forest jokers, come along to mess with him. He mounted, and they jousted. Lamorak dehorsed Kehydius easily, and Kehydius went down for the count. Then Lamorak dehorsed Tristram, leaving Tristram sore ashamed. They sword-fought for a few hours, and finally Tristram called a timeout.
“What’s your name, anyway, stranger?”
“Feh! Tell me your name first!”
“Now fair knight, my name is Sir Tristram de Liones.”
“Dude! My name is Sir Lamorak de Galis! From France!”
“You were the one who brought a horn of adulteress detection to King Mark’s court!”
“Heh, yeah.” Lamorak smiled at the memory.
“I’ll kill you for that!” snarled Tristram, raising his sword.
“Dude! No! Remember how, after that, we met on the Isle of Servage (which may actually be a peninsula) and I apologized and we made friends? We promised to be best buds!”
“I’m a jerk!” shouted Tristram and attacked Lamorak anyway.
They fight for another few hours, until they both collapsed, exhausted.
“Dang, man, you’re a big guy and in good shape, too,” said Tristram, panting. “Why are we fighting again? We should team up.”
“I suggested that a while back,” said Lamorak. “Then you attacked me for no reason. Then you attacked me for no reason, again. It seems pretty clear that the only way I can get you to quit attacking me is if I swallow my pride and surrender to you.” So Lamorak offered his sword to Tristram.
Tristram wouldn’t be outdone, the jerk, and refused to accept Lamorak’s surrender and then surrendered to him, just to prove that it wasn’t like Lamorak was the bigger man or anything. Tristram could surrender with the best of them!
“Whatever. I don’t care at this point. Just, let’s swear an oath not to randomly fight one another any more, okay?”
Tristram agreed, and they swore an oath that never none of them should fight against other, nor for weal nor for woe.
As they sat there in the forest, resting from their bout, suddenly there was a noise like thirty hounds! And then an animal rushed past Tristram and Lamorak (and Kehydius, who was still lying motionless on the ground and maybe someone should have checked on him). It was like a leopard, with a snake head, and hooves, and buttocks like a lion. It bellowed, again making a sound like thirty hounds, and then it was gone.
“The Questing Beast!” exclaimed Sir Lamorak, as that’s clearly what it was.
“What?” Tristram has never heard of it.
“My father, King Pellinore, used to hunt it. And now that quest falls to me,” said Lamorak. “Clearly this is a sign…”
Lamorak might have said more, except that Sir Palomides stormed into the clearing just then, spear in hand. “Which way did it go? I hunt the Questing Beast!”
“What?” Tristram still didn’t get it.
“Hey, that’s my family’s magical quest-object,” protested Lamorak. “Get your own!”
Tristram may not have understood what was happening, but he knew how to stir the pot. “Let’s joust over it!”
“No,” Palomides said shortly. To brief this matter he smote down Sir Tristram and Sir Lamorak both with one spear, and so he departed. That’s right! Amazingly, Malory passes up a chance to describe a lengthy joust in loving detail! I’m as shocked as you are. Also, Palomides beat Tristram instead of the other way around, for the first time.
“That dude’s a jerk,” said Tristram afterwards.
“I agree,” said Lamorak. Malory editorializes here, and observes that Sir Palomides wasn’t really a jerk, he was just focused on the Questing Beast, which Malory has decided had a name, Galtisant (good for you Malory the Questing Beast only showed up for the first time like eight Books ago).
Lamorak and Tristram remembered that Sir Kehydius had been lying unconscious for quite a while now. They hauled him off to a hunting lodge to recuperate; this took a few days. After a while, Lamorak got bored of waiting for Kehydius to rouse from his coma, and decided to head out.
“Listen, pal,” saids Tristram. “If you happen to Sir Palomides again, tell him I want to joust him again.”
“Whatever,” said Lamorak.