Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book VIII Chapter 2
So there they are: Elizabeth dead, the midwife holding Baby Tristram, the barons all around them. Will Baby Tristram make it?
Yes. Elizabeth’s legacy is so great, and her death scene last chapter so touching, that it inspires the midwife to extemporaneously give a lengthy speech about how great Elizabeth was, and how precious Baby Tristram is, and how the barons should be ashamed of themselves for even thinking about committing infanticide.
And the barons all go, aw shucks, and they bring the midwife and Baby Tristram and Elizabeth’s body home, where Meliodas is.
Turns out that as soon as Elizabeth was dead, Merlin appeared and rescued Meliodas from his witch-prison! Malory does not dwell on it. That’s what happens. Deal with it. I guess this is before Book IV.
Then Meliodas learns Elizabeth died. The sorrow that the king made for his queen that might no tongue tell, says Malory. Meliodas is pretty upset, and he stays pretty upset for seven years.
But you can’t be a king and not have a wife, apparently. After seven whole years, an impossibly long mourning period by the standard of the day, Meliodas reluctantly marries a princess from Brittany — the daughter of Howell, who incidentally is the husband of the woman whose rape Arthur avenges in Book V, Chapter V — and has a load of kids by her, strictly pro forma.
This second queen is pretty miserable pretty much of the time. Her husband doesn’t love her, she’s a long way from her home in Brittany, and her kids are all also-rans compared to Tristram, whom everyone dotes on and who will be king after Meliodas dies. Everybody is all Tristram this and Tristram that; it’s enough to make a Brittany princess crazy, even if she is King Arthur’s first cousin once removed. It’s like Rebecca.
So naturally she decides to murder little Tristram. Brittany’s plan: poison in the nursery! She doses Tristram’s favorite drinking-cup with a lethal dose, and sits back to wait for the inevitable.
Tragedy strikes when her own son grabs Tristram’s cup and drinks from it, and dies. Nobody except the queen knows that there was any poison around anywhere, and of course it’s the Dark Ages so no autopsy. The queen mourns her son! Everyone assumes she’s mopey because she just lost a kid, not because she just accidentally murdered her own child.
But it’s still Tristram this and Tristram that and how is Tristram dealing with his half-brother’s death and poor little dear never knew his mother and now this, and it just keeps gnawing away at the queen, his being alive like that. So she decides to try to poison him again, and this time: no screwups. Brittany won’t put poison in the nursery, because her own kids are in the nursery. She’ll put the poison someplace completely unrelated, she figures. Her plan: poison in one of the wine glasses. Because her kids don’t drink wine, you see!
But you know who does drink wine? Meliodas. He comes in, helps himself to some wine, he raises the glass to his lips, and then boom, Brittany suddenly realizes the folly of her scheme. She leaps forward, and knocks the glass out of Meliodas’s hand.
“Brittany? What?” Meliodas is stunned and confused by this bizarre behavior. “What’s gotten into you… unless… you witch! Did you poison your own son in a failed attempt to kill Tristram?!”
Meliodas can think fast in a pinch.
Brittany caves, sinks to her knees, sobs, confesses to everything. She just wanted what was best for her children, and Meliodas’s children, excepting Tristram! Surely Meliodas can forgive her?
No, not so much. Melodias arranges for her to burned at the stake. He calls in all his barons and knights and servants to watch, so they can see what happens when you try to poison a member of the royal family. Everyone, simply everyone is there! Brittany, trussed up like a turkey, wishes she weren’t.
In strolls Young Tristram. “Father,” he says, in his weird stilted way. “May I have a boon?”
“Oh, sure, why not?” says Meliodas. “But wait a moment; we’re setting fire to your stepmother.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Father,” says Tristram. “How about, instead of killing her, we don’t kill her?”
“What? She tried to kill you! Twice!”
“I know, Father, but the greatest virtue is forgiveness. So I forgive her,” says Young Tristram.
“Fine. I said I would give you a boon, so fine. It’s fine. But I’m kicking her out of my kingdom!”
“Oh, no, Father. You must lie with her as a husband and a wife, and love her and be good to her.”
Meliodas scowls and puts his head in his hands and grumbles. Young Tristram is all he has to remember Elizabeth by, and therefore he’ll do as the boy says and shack up with his Not-Elizabeth second wife. But since every time Meliodas looks at Young Tristram he sees Elizabeth, Meliodas decides to send Young Tristram away to France to be educated.
I look forward to Tristam stopping being a perfect cardboard paladin.