Tristram had left Cornwall several times before, but this was the first time he brought the lovely Isoud out with him. At last, there was no longer a reason for him to ever return. This was a game-changer. Obviously everything was going to be different from this point on.
First things first, Malory says. Now that things had changed, Tristram was free to participate in a jousting tournament. (JOUSTING TOURNAMENT 31!) He went incognito and kicked a lot of ass, until Launcelot showed up. Launcelot hadn’t planned on participating in the tournament, but with a Tristram-caliber knight participating, Sir Launcelot wanted to test his mettle.
However, Sir Tristram and Sir Launcelot didn’t end up jousting, as the lovely Isoud intervened. She took Launcelot aside and explained that Sir Guy Incognito was really Tristram. Launcelot invited them back to Camelot, where Tristram introduced the lovely Isoud to Arthur and Guenever and the social whirl. Everyone congratulated the two of them on their escape from Cornwall together. Arthur announced another tournament, this one at LONAZEP, to commemorate Tristram and Isoud and their awesome adultery.
Launcelot pointed out that LONAZEP was positioned, geographically, right near to a bunch of knights who hated Camelot and were anti-Arthur partisans. Perhaps Arthur would have liked to relocate this tournament to someplace safer?
“Screw that!” said Arthur.
And for the first time I can think of, a character’s expression of concern at the possibility of attack was not immediately followed up by vindication! Not because this tournament goes off without a hitch, but because it took a long time to organize. We’ll come back to it.
Meanwhile, Tristram and the lovely Isoud took up residence at Joyous Gard, Sir Launcelot’s castle. There they practiced all kinds of venery together. The lovely Isoud, worried about ambushes, warned Tristram to remember to keep his sword with him whenever he went venering.
One day as Tristram chased a hart in the woods alone, he came across a fair well. By staggering coincidence, it was the exact same well from Book I, the place where Arthur met Pellinore. I say that because guess what came tromping out of the woods, making a noise like thirty hounds? Yes, it was the Questing Beast.
“Oh, cool, the Questing Beast!” said Tristram to himself. “I’ll catch it and turn it over to my best frenemy, Sir Palomides, who’s been questing for it for so long!”
He put on his helmet and made ready to chase the Questing Beast, but he was distracted by Pitiless Bruce, who wandered up just then. The two ended up really hitting it off, despite Pitiless Bruce being a villain and Tristram a hero (albeit a hero who’d murdered a lot of people for no reason, who’d lied and insulted his friends for fun, and also who had been having a celebrated affair with his liege lord’s wife). They were engrossed in conversation and hardly noticed when Sir Palomides himself rode up.
“Yo, fellas! Fellas!” Palomides had to holler to get their attention. “I’ve got news!”
“King Mark is in jail! Sir Dinas got tired of his bull hockey and led Cornwall in revolt!”
“I know, right? Anyway, I figure now is the best possible time for me to get in on having an affair with the lovely Isoud, who as you recall is my lady-love as well as Tristram’s.”
Which was awkward! Because Tristram was right there. He had his helmet on, I guess. Or maybe Palomides had forgotten what Tristram looked like. That kind of thing happened a lot.
To make a long story very slightly shorter, Tristram and Palomides and Pitiless Bruce papered over this schism by randomly accosting the first knight they saw and challenging him to a joust for funsies. It turned out to be Sir Bleoberis, Knight of the Round Table, cousin of Sir Launcelot! And he was way into the joust, because he recognized Pitiless Bruce for the B-grade villain that he was!
Pitiless Bruce ended up running away, with Bleoberis hot on his trail. Palomides and Tristram didn’t care enough to follow, and went their separate ways. For once, we follow Pitiless Bruce from this scene, rather than any of the knights. Bruce hied it high and low, over hill and under dale. He rushed straight into Sir Percivale and a couple of Percivale’s friends!
“Whoa there buddy,” said Percivale. “Where’s the fire?”
“I’m on the run from Pitiless Bruce,” said Pitiless Bruce. “He’s the guy right behind me, wearing a Sir Bleoberis disguise!”
“Dang!” said Percivale. “I’ve heard of this Pitiless Bruce guy. He’s supposed to be a real dick. Never worry, stranger, we’ll protect you. Sir Ector the Lesser,” he continued, turning towards one of the knights with him. “Go take that guy out!”
“I’m on it!” said Sir Ector the Lesser, and approached Bleoberis.
Bleoberis sees Ector, Percivale, and Percivale’s other friend, whose name was Sir Harry of Fise Lake. Somehow Pitiless Bruce had made three friends; and now they outnumbered him four to one. Would Bleoberis run away?
No he wouldn’t! “I am a knight of the Round Table, and rather than I should shame mine oath and my blood I will hold my way whatsoever fall thereof,” he said to himself. “If I gotta fight four guys, I gotta fight four guys.”
So Bleoberis and Ector (first cousins) jousted. Bleoberis won, and when Percivale came in to rescue Ector, Percivale and Bleoberis fought to a draw.
“Hmm,” said Sir Harry. “On Fise Lake they don’t raise no fools. I don’t recall Pitiless Bruce being so good at jousting that he can defeat Ector and hold his own against Bleoberis.” Nevertheless he moved in to rescue Percivale, because a buddy was a buddy.
But Pitiless Bruce couldn’t resist villainy! He waited until Bleoberis was disadvantaged, then rode in and trampled him in a tremendously unknightly manner!
“What the hell, buddy?” demanded Sir Harry, irate at this display.
So Pitiless Bruce trampled him, too!
“Traitor knight!” cried Percivale, and tried to ride down Bruce, but Bruce fled.
Afterwards Bleoberis identified himself, and Ector pointed out that the two of them were cousins, members of Sir Launcelot’s extended family. They shared a good laugh over it. But not too good a laugh, because Pitiless Bruce had escaped.
Then: main plot advancement! It’s kind of like one of those episodes of, like, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the first forty minutes are monster-of-the-week, and then at the end they shoehorn in a little push to the season-long metaplot. Palomides joined the scene. In part he wanted to finish his interrupted joust with Sir Bleoberis, but mostly he came bearing news.
Sir Lamorak was dead!
Dun dun DUNNN!
It seems during a jousting tournament (one which happened entirely offscreen) Sir Gawaine and several of his brothers ambushed Sir Lamorak and murdered him. Totally a dick move, what with Lamorak having won the tournament before the murder. They slew him feloniously, unto all good knights’ great damage.
Percivale was Lamorak’s kid brother, you may recall. When he heard Lamorak had died, he broke down sobbing. His Benwick cousins were pretty miserable about it, too. Percivale recalled that Gawaine and his brothers had also ambushed and murdered his and Lamorak’s father, King Pellinore, and wondered aloud if maybe he ought to do something about it.
At this point Malory provides us with a brief interlude of Tristram being a dick to Sir Dinadan for no reason at all. Just after Sir Bleoberis chased Pitiless Bruce away, Sir Dinadan came by looking for Tristram. Sir Tristram decided, just for fun, that he’d gone incognito; he didn’t identify himself to Dinadan. Then Tristram insulted him, and compounded the insult by refusing to joust Dinadan when Dinadan got (understandably) pissed about it. Tristram goaded Dinadan into jousting a totally different knight just passing by instead, Sir Epinogris. When Dinadan lost Tristram mocked him for it. Dinadan finally stormed off in a huff, ignoring Tristram’s protestations at the end that it was all in good fun.
“I’ll tell you where Sir Tristram is! Let’s be friends!”
“Go to hell! If you know where Tristram is, maybe I don’t want to know any more! God defend me from thy friendship!“
The really sad thing is that Dinadan was as close as Tristram had to an actual friend.
Afterwards Tristram returned home to Joyous Gard. The guards there approached him to complain that some of their comrades had just been killed.
“A couple of knights are here, demanding hospitality. They just killed three guards for saying that Sir Launcelot is a better knight than Sir Gawaine.”
“This is Sir Launcelot’s castle; what did they expect?” Even Tristram thought this was some trollish behavior. He sought out these knights. “Guys, what the hell?”
“Tristram, Tristram, Tristram,” said the lead knight. “You’re new here. I’m Sir Gaheris, this is my brother Sir Agravaine. We’re Sir Gawaine’s brothers and King Arthur’s nephews and we kill whomever we feel like. I killed my own mother!”
“I know who you are,” said Tristram. “Gawaine and Arthur should both be ashamed to be related to you. Ye be called the greatest destroyers and murderers of good knights that be now in this realm. You’re the dicks who murdered Sir Lamorak. I wish I’d been there with him.”
“Then you would have ended the same way,” said Gaheris, and he spit on the ground.
“I’m guessing there must have been more than just the two of you there,” said Tristram. “Anyway, if you’re taking up residence in Joyous Gard, I’m leaving.”
Tristram turned to leave, but Agravaine stopped him. “Turn, traitor knight!” he demanded. “Nobody threatens us like that and then just walks away!”
“You asked for it,” said Tristram.
And then, of course, Tristram jousted the hell out of both of them, leaving them bloody and battered.
Afterwards he found the lovely Isoud. “We may have to leave Joyous Gard soon,” he told her. “Things have taken a turn for the violent.”
The lovely Isoud groaned when she hears about Gaheris and Agravaine. “This all sounds pretty bad. Lamorak dead, Dinadan unaccountably angry for no reason you could discern… Didn’t Dinadan come up with that ‘King Mark Sucks’ novelty song which proved so instrumental in deposing him?”
“I wish he’d come here; I’d like to thank him.”
“Well, he’s looking for me, so he’ll turn up at some point. You know he’s opposed to courtly love, by the way? Thinks it’s stupid and unrealistic.”
“Feh! Between that, and his inexplicable rage which you described as overtaking him while you were being perfectly reasonable, he sounds very grumpy. If I see him I’ll cheer him up.”
The lovely Isoud sent Dinadan a telegram or something (Malory doesn’t really explain) requesting he visit. Dinadan visited Joyous Gard; he and the lovely Isoud met, blah blah blah. Dinadan could see what Tristram saw in Isoud, blah blah blah, nevertheless courtly love was stupid, blah blah blah.
“You know, Sir Bleoberis fought off three knights at once, for the love of a lady,” said the lovely Isoud.
“Yeah. He’s a good guy, Bleoberis,” said Dinadan.
“Would you fight three knights for me?”
The lovely Isoud was disappointed. “Aren’t I fair enough? I’m pretty fair!”
“No argument here! You are the fairest lady I have ever met, and much fairer than my lady Queen Guenever, heck, fairer than Sally Segwarides. But that doesn’t mean I’d fight knights just on your say-so.”
“You’re silly,” laughed the lovely Isoud. “By the standards of our society, it’s you who are the eccentric one!”
And Malory closes the scene with an implicit invitation to marvel at Sir Dinadan’s pig-headed refusal to go fight three knights at once for no reason other than a hot lady asked him to.