The eighth book of Le Morte D’Arthur! The story of Sir Tristram! This is going to be awesome, right? Right, you guys?
The story of Sir Tristram starts off more similarly to the story of Ben Linus than I was expecting. Let me explain.
Once upon a time in Arthurian England, in Cornwall, there was a king named Meliodas, and he was the king of Liones, a region in (or near) Cornwall. He lucked out inasmuch as his wife, Queen Elizabeth, was the sister of King Mark of Cornwall (last seen making an inexplicable cameo way back in Book II). Also he was a king in Arthurian times, so Arthur was pretty much his direct supervisor. Arthur, Malory reminds us, had a lot of subsidiary kings: two in Wales, two in the North, two in Cornwall (Mark and Meliodas), two or maybe three in Ireland (Malory isn’t sure), plus the King of France and the King of Brittany and a bunch of kings in between France and Rome. You remember, from Book V when Arthur conquered Europe?
Which is a huge continuity error, by the way, because folks have been talking about Sir Tristram forever. Book II, Book IV, Book VII, and of course Book V, they all have mentions of Sir Tristram. The Book II mention is excusable because it’s Merlin spouting crazy prophecy, but before Arthur invades Europe, Tristram’s name comes up in relation to Launcelot maybe not invading Europe. I remember this clearly. And yet we’re now led to believe that when Elizabeth and Meliodas — spoiler alert, they’re Tristram’s parents — got together, Arthur already had the fealty of a big pile of kings on the continent. It’s like Malory wasn’t even trying, here.
Anyway. Meliodas and Elizabeth are wed, they are nuts for one another. Elizabeth gets pregnant lickety-split! Eight and a half months later, Meliodas is out hunting, when some witch sees him and lusts after him and uses magic to trick him into chasing an illusory hart through the wilderness. Strange but true. Meliodas chases this imaginary hart right into a ruined manor house out in the middle of nowhere, and then, shocking, the manor house turns out to be an enchanted prison, where the witch locks him up and tries to seduce him.
Maybe this was a particular thing for Malory, a knight getting imprisoned by a witch who wants to seduce him. Morgan le Fay does it to Launcelot in Book VI. But the man lived five centuries ago, I got no idea what his deal was.
Regardless, the king pines only for his wife, and the witch is just out of luck. No seductions happen, which is also what happens when Morgan le Fay tried to sleep with Launcelot under similar circumstances. Meanwhile, at the same time, Queen Elizabeth notices her husband is missing and decides to go out looking for him, which is a pretty unexpected thing for a woman in a story written by Malory to be doing. She’s hugely pregnant, so she brings along exactly one servant, who is also a midwife, in case she has to give birth in the field.
Queen Elizabeth: even Malory can’t make her not kind of awesome.
Sadly though the worst happens, or nearly the worst: Elizabeth goes into labor, way out in the middle of nowhere, and she and the midwife are able to midwife little Baby Tristram into the world, but the strain of it kills her. Death in childbirth was a thing that happened a lot, and poor Elizabeth was in the middle of the woods without even boiling water and clean sheets.
So Elizabeth dies, but she’s too badass to pass up a final monologue.
“When you find Meliodas,” she tells her midwife, “give him my love, and tell him I wished he was here for this, the birth of our son, and that I miss him and I’m sorry to have to leave him in the lurch like this. Tell him about how I went looking for him, so maybe he’ll know how much I loved him.”
Queen Elizabeth takes little Baby Tristram in her arms. “Oh, my son,” she says. “I’m guessing you’ll grow up to be a mighty knight. You’ve already slain your first damosel, and you don’t even know how your hands work yet! But before I go, little murderer, I name you. I name you Tristram.”
Malory helpfully explains Tristram means sorrowful birth. (My wife did her senior thesis on Tristram, and informs me this is bull hockey.) Also, Elizabeth’s quip about Tristram already slaying his first damosel: totally canonical, in case you wondered.
Once Elizabeth is dead, a convenient posse of Meliodas’s knights and barons ride up; they’d been looking for Meliodas or Elizabeth or somebody, anyway. When they see Elizabeth dead and Tristram born, they get the smart idea of killing the baby, calling Meliodas dead, and fighting over his throne.
Dun dun dunn! The chapter ends on a cliffhanger! Haven’t seen that in a while. Will Baby Tristram survive?